MANAMA (Bahrain) • Lewis Hamilton has apologised to his Mercedes team, after he incurred a penalty that ensured he finished second behind the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel at the Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday.
The two Formula One teams had been evenly matched in race pace but Ferrari's aggressive pit strategy gave Vettel the advantage and when Hamilton came in under the safety car, he was too slow into the pit entry and took a five-second penalty.
Vettel's winning margin was 6.6 seconds but the error cost Hamilton any chance to challenge him for the win.
The Briton said of his error: "Yeah, completely my fault with the safety car. You are supposed to have a five-second gap and I think I had a four-second gap. Just a misjudgment from myself. Apologies to the team but I tried the best I could to recover it and we still got good points."
Hamilton had pitted behind Valtteri Bottas, who had started on pole but finished third, and because both Mercedes drivers came in under the safety car at the same time, the Briton had to wait while his team-mate took new tyres.
To try to minimise the delay, he slowed on entry, backing up the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo.
BAHRAIN GP RESULTS
1 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari
1hr 33min 53.373sec
2 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes +6.600sec
3 Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Mercedes +20.397
4 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari +22.475
5 Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Red Bull +39.346
6 Felipe Massa (Bra) Williams +54.326
7 Sergio Perez (Mex) Force India +1:02.606
8 Romain Grosjean (Fra) Haas +1:14.865
9 Nico Hülkenberg (Ger) Renault +1:20.188
10 Esteban Ocon (Fra)
Force India +1:35.711
1 Vettel 68 pts 2 Hamilton 61 3 Bottas 38 4 Raikkonen 34 5 Max Verstappen (Ned) Red Bull 25
1 Ferrari 102 pts 2 Mercedes 99
3 Red Bull 47 4 Force India 17
5 Williams 16
If the Briton had sped up and waited behind Bottas, releasing Ricciardo to head into his garage, Hamilton could have found himself behind the Australian when he came out.
The incident was investigated immediately by the stewards and Hamilton was given the penalty shortly afterwards.
Niki Lauda, the Mercedes non-executive chairman, believed the moment had been decisive.
"Without the penalty he could have still won the race," he said, but also acknowledged that Ferrari had called their strategy well.
"Ferrari had the right pit stops at the right time, did everything right and deserved to win."
Ferrari had called Vettel in early and his pace on fresh rubber gave him the lead and track advantage.
The team have been reinvigorated by the performance of their car this season after three years of Mercedes dominance and are showing a determination to match it, with their calls from the pit wall having been equally astute in the opening race in Melbourne, where Vettel also won.
"I think the team has obviously done a really great job," the German said. "A lot of hard work, commitment, things start to click and hopefully that sort of success now in the first couple of races helps us to build up some sort of momentum that Mercedes had in the past and the last couple of years, so they will be the ones to beat."
Toto Wolff, the Mercedes executive director, said his team would now analyse whether it was time to put their full weight behind Hamilton, who trails Vettel by seven points in the championship, as their main shot at the title.
Mercedes previously have always allowed thoir drivers to race without orders. But, with early signs being that the title fight will be between Hamilton and Vettel, the team may do so.
"It needs a proper analysis of what it means and where we are," he said. "We'd like to give equal opportunity at the start of the race... Then you see what we did in the race, we made the call because we felt it was the only possibility of winning the race."
THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE