On the podium at the Australian GP in what he bills as “not a great car”, Lewis Hamilton says he’d be in the fight for the World title “if the car comes correct tomorrow”.
Mercedes went into this year’s championship confident they’d resolved last season’s issues and would, if not fight for the championship titles, at least close the gap to Red Bull.
It was not to be with Toto Wolff declaring after Bahrain, where Hamilton was 50s down on race winner Max Verstappen, that it had “doubled if not tripled”.
But in the face of talk of radical changes to the car’s concept with Mercedes admitting they had got that wrong, Hamilton went on to bag the team’s first podium of this season at the Australian Grand Prix.
The Briton, having qualified third behind his team-mate George Russell, took the fight to Verstappen at the start with Mercedes running 1-2 until race leader George Russell pitted. His race would be undone by a red flag with Hamilton taking the lead – but only able to keep Verstappen at bay for a handful of laps after the restart.
As soon as the Red Bull had DRS available, he flew past the Mercedes and raced his way to his second win of the season.
But all was not lost for Hamilton as the seven-time World Champion was able to keep the Aston Martin, arguably the second fastest car on the grid in race trim, behind him from over 40 laps to finish second ahead of Fernando Alonso.
For Hamilton it was a “little cheeky” podium in a car that he still feels is only good enough for P5.
“I don’t like driving not great cars. I don’t like driving a car that’s not the car that we weren’t meant to have, but I love that challenge of ‘okay, what can I do with it?’,” he told Fox Sports.
“Wins are not possible right, so what is the maximum we can get? Can we be a little cheeky and if fifth is the best we can get, can we get a fourth or a third?
“Just make sure we are consistent and fit and ready so when the car does all of a sudden switch on, and it is the car you dreamed of having, you’re ready.”
And ready is one thing Hamilton insists he is, the Briton adamant as soon as Mercedes fix their problems, he’ll be fighting for his record-breaking eighth World title.
“I am ready to win a World Championship,” he declared.
“I have prepared the best way I can this year – the best I have ever prepared – and if the car comes correct tomorrow I will be ready to fight for the World Championship, but unfortunately that’s not the case.
“I am working with everyone here and back at the factory to get there.”
Hamilton’s 18 points in Melbourne elevated him to fourth in the 2023 F1 drivers’ championship, 31 points behind championship leader Verstappen.
The seven-time World Champion recently explained why he’s feeling such a disconnect with his W14, revealing a large part of that is down to his seating position.
“I don’t know if people know, we sit closer to the front wheels than all the other drivers,” he said. “Our cockpit is too close to the front.
“When you’re driving, you feel like you’re sitting on the front wheels which is one of the worst feelings to feel when you’re driving a car.
“If you were driving your car at home, and you put the wheels right underneath your legs, you would not be happy when you’re approaching the roundabout!
“So, what that does is it just really changes the attitude of the car and how you perceive its movement. And it makes it harder to predict, compared to when you’re further back and you’re sitting closer, more centre.
“It’s just something I’ve really struggled with.”