Lewis Hamilton’s attention turning to 2023: Red Bull, Ferrari in ‘another league’

Jon Wilde
Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes passes welcome sign. Spa-Francorchamps August 2022.

Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes passes welcome sign on qualifying day for the Belgian Grand Prix. Spa-Francorchamps August 2022.

Lewis Hamilton was audibly staggered to be 1.8 seconds off pole position at Spa – and later described it as “a kick in the teeth”.

The seven-time World Champion admitted his thoughts were starting to turn towards 2023, such is the gulf in performance between his Mercedes team and Red Bull.

The Belgian Grand Prix had given rise to hopes of a first Mercedes win this season, for they had enjoyed a double podium finish at each of the two previous rounds and were thought to perhaps be less disadvantaged by the incoming FIA technical directive than Red Bull or Ferrari.

Engine penalties that have put Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc towards the back of the grid were a further boost – but then all the encouragement ebbed away in qualifying.

It was back to the bad old days of earlier in the campaign as Hamilton and George Russell needed a strong final run just to reach Q3, in which they then set the seventh and eight fastest times respectively.

Besides the Red Bulls and Ferraris, both Mercedes cars were slower than the two Alpines – although they will rise to fourth and fifth on the grid due to the penalties that have demoted Verstappen, Leclerc and Esteban Ocon.

Over the team radio on his final in-lap, Hamilton sounded in complete disbelief at the 1.8-sec gap to Verstappen – and clearly felt no better about it by the time he was in front of the microphone for his post-session interviews.

“Obviously everyone’s working for improvements,” said the 37-year-old Briton. “We came here very optimistic that we would be close, half a second [behind], who knows, and to be 1.8 seconds behind it’s a real kick in the teeth.

“It’s a car we continue to struggle with and [I] definitely won’t miss it at the end of the year. For me, it’s about just focusing on how we build and design next year’s car. The two teams ahead of us are in another league.

“Our car looks so much different to theirs, so we’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ll do the best we can with what we have for the rest of the season.”

Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes during free practice for the Belgian GP. Spa-Francorchamps August 2022.
Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes on the kerb during free practice for the Belgian Grand Prix. Spa-Francorchamps August 2022.

Asked for specifics about the difficulties of driving the W13, Hamilton replied: “It’s balance. Even on the straight I keep looking in the mirror and it feels like you have a parachute behind you, so we are probably a little bit too draggy.

“I think it’s the fundamental position we are in – we are kind of pivoting around the same problem, but we will get there eventually.”