Mercedes caught out in failing F1 bluff
LEWIS Hamilton says Mercedes can't afford to "bluff" in the F1 2018 title race any longer, and admits he is concerned about Ferrari's pace advantage as he prepares for a pivotal stretch in the championship.
Hamilton has seen his lead in the drivers' standings cut to 17 points after Sebastian Vettel's dominant victory at the Belgian GP, with Ferrari appearing to have taken a bigger step with their upgraded engine than Mercedes.
Though the Englishman claimed back-to-back wins before the summer break, he believes there's a worrying trend in the current performance race with Ferrari and has urged his team to step it up.
"Naturally, it is a concern," Hamilton told reporters after the race at Spa, which Vettel claimed by more than 10 seconds.
"Everyone asks at press conferences, 'Who do you think is faster, you or Ferrari?' They've had the pace, the upper hand on us, for some time.
"Those last two races, before here, we just did a better job with it even though they had better cars.
"But if you're playing with a deck of cards, and you're bluffing, there's only a certain amount of time you can do that before your opponent realises you are doing that."
Mercedes and Ferrari both brought their new spec three power units to the race but it was Vettel who benefited most, enjoying plenty more straight-line speed than Hamilton on Lap One before passing him into Les Combes.
Silver Arrows team boss Toto Wolff said his team had been "swallowed up" while Hamilton claimed he was defenceless against Ferrari's "tricks".
"We can still beat them at races, I just don't know what ones they are going to be," he admitted afterwards.
The world champion continued: "Moving forward, we do have some performance coming, but I'm sure they'll have some performance coming, so I really can't predict what's going to happen."
Formula 1 heads to Monza this weekend, a home race Ferrari have not won since 2010 but have already been tipped for due to their apparent power advantage.
"We've just got to keep at it," Hamilton said. "I truly trust and believe in my guys. We feel the ups and downs together and you can't win them all, but these next string of races are going to be really telling.
"The next two or three races are going to show if they can sustain that high performance."
HAMILTON: LET'S PUT THE PRESSURE ON
The Belgian GP may not have gone his way, but one frequent statement from Hamilton in his media sessions in recent months is that he truly believes he can handle the pressure of an F1 title race better than anyone, including Vettel.
"If we were level or behind in the championship, it (losing in Belgium) would be more painful," Hamilton said. "But definitely we've made fewer mistakes this year. We need to try and keep that up because that counts for something."
Hamilton compared the challenge of his current battle up against Vettel and Ferrari to his karting days, when he used to turn up driving what he called a "four-poster bed", beating competitors using better equipment.
It's clear Hamilton has not lost faith in his, or Mercedes' abilities.
"I think the strength is there, the consistency is there, and that's something I want to continue to try and hold on to," he added.
"You can tell it's going to take the whole package, the whole complete package, 100 per cent, to outperform them.
"Sebastian performed really well and didn't make any mistakes (at Spa), he did a great job, but we've got to keep applying the pressure."
WOLFF PULLS NO PUNCHES ON MERCEDES' STRUGGLES
Despite starting off from pole position, Hamilton was beaten by over 10 seconds by Vettel at Spa.
And while the lead Mercedes had no answer to the pace of the Ferrari along the straights, the Silver Arrows was also handicapped by excessive tyre wear and poor traction out of the slow corners.
"After days like this, you have to question yourself," said team principal Toto Wolff. "I look at today's race and I see many deficits. We're a strong team but there are deficits that are obvious which cause us not to perform as we expect. It's not about somebody else out-performing us, it's about us finding the clues to understand our under-performance.
"The deficits are the slow-speed corners and the traction. This is what I would summarise as the main weaknesses at the moment. Today we were clearly, compared to Ferrari, the Red Bulls and Force Indias, the car that was cooking the tyres the most."
WOLFF SHIES AWAY FROM ANY FERRARI SUSPICIONS
Questioned about Ferrari's mid-season surge, Wolff reiterated the world champions were satisfied with the FIA's policing of the sport - and the legality of their rivals' cars.
"I don't know the ins and outs of their engine," said Wolff. "I only see the GPS data and you can only see that they have a power advantage at certain bits of the lap. I can't add any more.
When pressed, Wolff added: "I think they are very innovative.
"There are things on the car that they continue to develop and they add performance every single race over the last four, five races."
He continued: "It is a completely human nature that if you are being outperformed on track, you are (first) hopefully looking at yourself and where it's lacking, and then you're looking at your competitors."
Ferrari have enjoyed a pick-up in power performance since the Austrian GP, though their "innovative" engine configuration was being investigated earlier in the season.
The FIA, F1's governing body, cleared their energy recovery system at May's Monaco GP following a thorough examination, but Wolff said he still didn't know the "ins and outs" of their engine or where they've found performance.
"If you haven't got an explanation, you're trying to imagine all the nasty things," he admitted.
But Wolff maintained that he had "real faith in the FIA".
"There's a great group of people who are on top of things, who control each and every team, who are open-minded and this is the case for all the teams.
"Everybody will try to innovate and will try to find additional performance and they, as far as I am concerned, are doing the right things."