Lewis Hamilton: Mercedes ‘nowhere near’ podium contention and ‘miles off’ Ferrari

Jamie Woodhouse
Lewis Hamilton ahead of Mercedes team-mate George Russell. Bahrain, March F1 2023.

Lewis Hamilton is followed by his Mercedes team-mate George Russell. Bahrain, March 2023.

Lewis Hamilton aims to be a “positive light” at Mercedes with the W14 not the “right car” and adrift of podium-level performance.

Hamilton’s team-mate George Russell had been quietly confident of Mercedes taking the fight to Ferrari in the Bahrain Grand Prix, with race pace having proven to be far stronger for the team than qualifying performance last season.

However, Mercedes still struggled to threaten the Scuderia come race day, Hamilton crossing the line P5 and almost three seconds behind Carlos Sainz in the Ferrari.

Sainz had dropped back in the latter stages of the race, and was passed by Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso not long after a Virtual Safety Car period caused by Charles Leclerc’s retirement in the other Ferrari.

Hamilton though said that he could not hang on to the back of Sainz, conceding that Mercedes are the clear “fourth-fastest team” behind Red Bull, Ferrari and Aston Martin.

“The Ferraris were just quicker than us today, we were the fourth-fastest team,” he told media, including PlanetF1.com, in Bahrain.

“It was close for a second [with Sainz] and then just couldn’t hold on to him, he just kept pulling away, so did the best I could.”

But all that considered, Hamilton was asked whether he ultimately was closer to the podium picture than he expected to be, since Alonso crossed the line P3 only 12 seconds ahead. This was met with a resounding no.

Noting that Leclerc was running P3 when a power unit issue forced him to retire, Hamilton conceded that Mercedes were “miles off” the level needed to challenge for a top-three result.

“No, we’re miles off,” Hamilton said in response to the podium talk. “There was a Ferrari that would have been ahead of him [Alonso], so we would have really been sixth, a podium was nowhere near.”

As for that trend of Mercedes being stronger in the race than qualifying, Hamilton worryingly did not notice any reversal of that, saying that in this regard, the W14 “felt the same” as the W13.

But, the seven-time World Champion says the W14 is severely lacking downforce, and while the team search for this to improve their situation, Hamilton says he will try to be the “positive light” that pushes Mercedes forward.

“It generally felt the same as last year,” said Hamilton when put to him that race pace now seems no better than one-lap performance.

“When we did the strategy in the morning, I told the guys it wasn’t going go as far as they said it was going to go, and it didn’t.

“So we’ve just got a lot of work to do, we’ve just got to add downforce to the car, we’re just lacking a lot of downforce, so that’s really where the time will come as soon as we put more load on the rear and the front, and we’ll pick up that pace.

“We know we’re not where we need to be, and we know that this isn’t the right car, it’s a difficult one, but I’ve just got to try and stay positive, keep my head up and keep pushing the guys, keep trying to be a positive light for them and get the best points I can.”

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Hamilton was able to write a new racing chapter with Alonso in Bahrain as the pair went to battle once more, Alonso pulling a stunning and rare move at Turn 10 on Hamilton.

He would congratulate Alonso and Aston Martin on the podium, though also pointed out that they are a Mercedes customer and use their wind tunnel, just further rubbing salt in the wound for Mercedes with their struggles.

“Big congrats to Fernando today, did a great job, it’s really amazing to see,” said Hamilton. “And to all the Aston Martin team, they did such an amazing job.

“So we’ve got work to do, because I mean, half the car is ours, and they do their aero in our wind tunnel, so we’ve got some work to do.”

Additional reporting by Thomas Maher