Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton has conceded Ferrari were just too fast during the Malaysian Grand Prix and that is why he could only finish second.

Hamilton started on pole position, but a decision to stop early when the safety car was deployed didn't work out and at the chequered flag he was 8.5 seconds down on Sebastian Vettel.

"Firstly a huge congratulations to Ferrari and to Sebastian - they did an amazing job. They had some pace. I gave it everything I could, we did as a team. I knew coming into this weekend that they had made a step. We didn't know how big, but they were too fast for us today," Hamilton confirmed on the podium at Sepang.

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"I think we will just get back together now as a team and try and work out where we were losing time. My balance wasn't great particularly, so there are definitely areas we can improve," added the 2008 and 2014 F1 World Champion.

"I am sure we will be fighting at the next race. In general the team did a fantastic job. I am really grateful for the car we have. The fans have been fantastic this weekend too - thank you so much guys."

Speaking in the press conference, when asked if he thought today's race was winnable, he replied: "You have to give it to them. They did a fantastic job this weekend. We - and I - was not expecting them to be as quick as they were today. I think it is great for the fans to see.

"I don't know if I had stayed out with him [and not pitted under the safety car] if that would have made much of a difference, perhaps they were just as good, if not a bit better on tyre degradation. I think it would still have been very, very close, but naturally after that first stop I just had so much ground to catch up. It was pretty much impossible."

Meanwhile, Hamilton admitted that he was struggling in the first stint and for much of the race, particularly on the hard tyre.

"Generally all day today I was struggling with the balance - very, very uncomfortable with the car. I had a lot of understeer in the low, which inevitably snaps into oversteer everywhere. I couldn't really look after my tyres," he explained. "I was doing everything with my controls, but I couldn't find a good balance.

"When I went to the option tyre the car was good - or better. Then I was able to be a bit more consistent and close down the gap.

"I thought we would be going onto that tyre again at the end, but we went onto the other one, which I knew wasn't good for me as I experienced before. But I did the best job I could with it and I think ultimately the team made the best choices we could today. We will try to analyse and improve for next time."

Hamilton now goes to China in two weeks time, still top of the Drivers' Championship, but with Vettel only 3 points behind, 43 versus 40.