Damon Hill isn’t bursting with confidence about Mercedes’ 2024 prospects after Lewis Hamilton’s lacklustre response when quizzed on his hopes for next season.
As Max Verstappen romped to win number 19 of this season, crossing the finish line in Abu Dhabi 18s ahead of Charles Leclerc, Hamilton was down in ninth place, a further 26s back.
It was a disappointing end to a season in which Mercedes even went as far as to drop the zero-pod philosophy and go with the more Red Bull-esque bulkier sidepods in a bid to close the gap.
Damon Hill: He was not exactly effervescent about it
They didn’t, leaving Hamilton concerned about what 2024 may have in store for him and Mercedes.
“At this moment, I don’t really know,” he said when asked by Rachel Brookes if his team could challenge Red Bull next season.
“For Red Bull to win by 17 seconds in the end, and they haven’t developed their car since August is definitely a concern.”
His downbeat response has 1996 World Champion Hill worried.
“It’s a long hard year. And he’ll bounce back from that,” he said during the Sky F1 broadcast.
“But the worrying thing was when Rachel asked him about have you got any hope about what was coming. He was not exactly effervescent about it.”
The Briton, though, is confident Mercedes must have learned lessons from the past two years’ trials, lessons that should help them with next year’s W15.
“I think on reflection, I’m sure that they’ll come back,” he added.
“They’ve got to have learned something from the last two seasons, and they’ve got to learn something from this year that will mean that they’ve got some ability to take a change in direction.
“He motivated quite a lot of change in that team when they were persisting with their original car, and he’s gotten them to change and think differently.
“So I’m sure that the new car will have no resemblance to the current one.”
Naomi Schiff is more worried about Toto Wolff’s comments
But while Hill is concerned about Hamilton, it’s Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff’s comments after Abu Dhabi that have his fellow pundit Naomi Schiff a bit worried.
Interviewing the Austrian after the race, Schiff asked if Mercedes were “building on or starting from a completely new base” for next year which Wolff didn’t exactly answer, instead speaking about having “good things in the pipeline”.
Schiff said: “Look, Lewis has said on multiple occasions that’s where he wants to leave his legacy.
“So I think for now, there’s enough hope left within the team, the spirit, even with Toto was saying down the barrel of our cameras is that he has faith that they can turn the situation around.
“Of course, they didn’t this year, quite clearly the mood is still quite low.
“But I found what was interesting there about what Lewis said that it’s slightly disappointing to see that Red Bull at this point is still winning by 17 seconds.
“And the question that I was trying to get out of Toto was are they going to be building from this point on going into next year or are they going to turn it around much like Aston Martin did or McLaren did by completely bringing in something different that maybe brings them back to the drawing board?
“So I don’t know if that’s a little bit telling of the fact that they might still just be building? Hopefully not.”