Melbourne, Mar 13 (AFP) Sebastian Vettel said Wednesday that Ferrari have "tried to turn the page" after being dominated by Mercedes in 2018 and their new car "feels good" ahead of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix. The German four-time world champion was speaking as the new Formula One season officially launched with all 20 drivers taking part in a first-of-its-kind public meet-and-greet with fans in the heart of Melbourne.
"For the whole team we have tried to turn the page," Vettel told the thousands of fans who turned up for a glimpse of their heroes in the city's Federation Square. "We had some weaknesses here and there last year and we have tried to fix those and do much better," he added after the drivers arrived by boat on the Yarra River, signed autographs and posed for pictures with the event live streamed on Formula One's social media channels.
"The team is on track and the car feels good," he said of his Ferrari, which was fastest in pre-season testing and is the bookmakers' favourite going into Sunday's race. Sports-mad Melbourne has hosted the season-opening Grand Prix every year, bar two, since 1996.
"I love it here. There's a great energy and it gets better through the week," said Mercedes' five-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, who was beaten by Vettel to the chequered flag at the Albert Park circuit last year. After losing out to the German again in the second race of the season in Bahrain, the Englishman roared back to sweep to the 2018 drivers' championship by winning 11 of the remaining 19 grands prix.
The 2019 calendar features a gruelling 21 races, with the sport celebrating its 1,000th Grand Prix later in the year in China. The new launch event was a chance to interact with fans, said Formula One's commercial manager Sean Bratches.
"The passion, knowledge and enthusiasm of the Melbourne crowd deserved a special thanks and this is why we decided to organise the first-ever season launch event in the history of the sport," he said. "It's vital that we put them at the heart of everything we do, and this event provides us with a platform to engage with fans not just locally but also globally." (AFP) AH