Ex-F1 racer David Coulthard has no doubt that Lewis Hamilton is still at his peak, but cannot show it in the Mercedes W14.
Hamilton had prepared for 2022 to be an exception as he went a full season without a victory for the first time in his Formula 1 career, but Mercedes have also made a rocky start to the F1 2023 campaign.
The W14 has, in the early stages of the year, taken Mercedes back to their situation at this point in 2022, where their challenger is rarely a threat to the pacesetters, which this time around is a very Red Bull-exclusive club.
That then has left Hamilton facing an almighty task if he is to get anywhere near the F1 2023 title picture, with the carrot being dangled in front of him in the form of that record eighth World Championship.
Hamilton’s team-mate George Russell meanwhile has been shining against him for one-lap pace so far this season, boasting a 4-1 qualifying record over his legendary compatriot.
Coulthard though believes that it is merely the W14, an underperforming challenger which Hamilton is not enjoying, that is holding the seven-time champ back rather than any decline in ability.
“This is the best car that George has ever driven, remember he was at Williams, this is not the best car that Lewis has ever driven,” said Coulthard on Channel 4.
“His mind is in a different place, the car isn’t talking to him, playing to his strengths and you can see he is fighting it out there, it’s just not stable.
“So you have two drivers at different phases of their career. The mighty Lewis is still in there, it just won’t really show itself until the Mercedes is as mighty as it once was.”
Coulthard also believes the fact that Russell is able to drive with relative freedom is working in his favour, while Hamilton has additional “baggage” like the frustration with this underwhelming W14 and negotiations over a Mercedes contract extension to carry.
But, when Hamilton has a car which is “talking to him” once more, then he expects Russell will find out exactly why Hamilton is a record-equalling seven-time World Champion.
“George is just sort of constantly there,” said Coulthard. “This is the best car he’s ever driven, so he’s not caught up with the baggage of Lewis trying to figure it out, ‘am I re-signing for another year?’ ‘Can I win another World Championship?’ So there’s a lot more on his plate.
“George is doing a brilliant job, [he is an] absolute asset for the team. That’s not to say Lewis isn’t doing a brilliant job, it just means that the car isn’t talking to him right now and when it does, expect him to be showing George why he won seven World Championships.”
Mercedes are expected to unveil a new-look W14 for the upcoming Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola, an upgrade package which Hamilton admitted he has been “counting the days down” to.
He goes into that event P4 in the Drivers’ Championship, 16 points clear of Russell who took a major hit when retiring from the Australian GP a few rounds ago, a race which at an earlier stage he had been leading.