‘Have you been drinking?’ – Berger rules out Hamilton win

Gerhard Berger sits with Red Bull's Adrian Newey. Jeddah, March 2022. Lewis Hamilton

Gerhard Berger sits with Red Bull's Adrian Newey. Jeddah, March 2022.

Gerhard Berger has scoffed at suggestions that Lewis Hamilton could win the French Grand Prix.

Formula 1 veteran and current DTM promoter Berger has bluntly written off any chance of Hamilton taking victory at Paul Ricard.

With Mercedes’ W13 finding performance as the season wears on, the ultra-smooth surface of the French GP venue could play to the strengths of the recalcitrant car and allow Hamilton and George Russell to join in the fight with pacesetters Red Bull and Ferrari.

Appearing on the F1 Nation podcast, Berger joined hosts Damon Hill and Tom Clarkson to discuss the chances of Mercedes fighting at the front this weekend after both Russell and Hamilton showed immense pace in practice and early in qualifying for the Austrian Grand Prix.

“I wouldn’t go that far,” the Austrian replied when asked about the possibility.

“The Mercedes hasn’t worked really well anywhere this year. It could be maybe a bit better, but I don’t think it will go so much in this direction that they suddenly will play a role to win the race.”

Berger did suggest Mercedes could show a little more pace than they have in general this season, with Toto Wolff suggesting after Austria that Mercedes have halved the pace deficit to the front-running cars since the start of the year.

“Paul Ricard has always been a little bit different. It’s very smooth,” the Austrian said.

“It’s a very different style of circuit. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Mercedes works a bit better there, it’s very flat. But in general, it will be again a fight between Red Bull and Ferrari.”

With conversation switching to predicting the top three finishers at the 12th round of the 2022 season, Clarkson and Hill both suggested Mercedes could be the team to beat.

“I think Mercedes will let rip this weekend and be really impressive,” Clarkson said.

“We will see Lewis Hamilton back to his best. Can you imagine if we had Hamilton, [Max] Verstappen and [Charles] Leclerc all going for the win?”

Hill said circumstances of a collision or incident could turn the order of the race upside down, but also put Hamilton forward as his race winner.

“Maybe, even on pure pace, Mercedes spring a surprise,” the 1996 F1 World Champion said.

“Because I think, in race trim, Lewis has been, on occasions, very quick. It could even be Lewis in first, George in second and Carlos Sainz in third. How about that?”

Berger, well known for his straightforward nature and willingness to play pranks on those around him, was having none of it.

“Which passport do you have?” he wryly asked the two hosts. “What’s going on with you guys, are you drinking or what?”

Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton in action at the Austrian Grand Prix. Spielberg, July 2022.

With Hill and Clarkson joining Berger in laughter, the 10-time grand prix winner turned more serious as he spoke about the chances of Hamilton ever winning a record-breaking eighth world title.

Asked about whether Hamilton would be finding 2022 particularly difficult given his less competitive machinery this season, Berger said, “For him, the toughest is that he lost the championship last year, because last year he would have put himself in the books as the most successful Formula 1 driver ever.

“Not winning the championship means it’s Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton. This, for him, in the way how he seeks to beat all the records, which has been very impressive until now, this is something where he needs to still win one championship.

“It could be really difficult because now, with the new regulations, Mercedes have first to catch up with the others. Not thinking about having an advantage, as they had very often in the last years. So now it could be a long way [away].

“But in Formula 1, saying ‘I need to win the championship’, it doesn’t work. I think this is something where, for him, it is probably a difficult situation. Then having the car as he has now, you can see [that] when the car starts to work a bit better, he can go to the podium and he finds his performance again.”