Lewis Hamilton delivers ‘nowhere near’ Red Bull warning after ‘shock’ Mercedes 1-2

Jamie Woodhouse
Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes W15 inside the garage.

Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes W15.

While Mercedes shocked themselves with a one-two finish in the second Bahrain Grand Prix practice session, Lewis Hamilton warned their race pace is “nowhere near” what Red Bull possesses. 

Reigning three-time World Champion Max Verstappen and his Red Bull team go into F1 2024 as huge favourites to score another double title triumph, but the opening day of F1 2024 track action served to cast the slightest bit of doubt over the pace advantage which much of the F1 paddock believes Red Bull has.

As the floodlights took hold for FP2, creating conditions to match what we will see in qualifying and the race, Mercedes shone brightest, Hamilton heading a one-two, a couple of tenths up on team-mate George Russell, while Verstappen was forced to settle for P6, just under half a second down on Hamilton.

Lewis Hamilton very wary of Red Bull despite Mercedes heroics

Come the final Q3 stage of qualifying, we will see whether this “shock” Mercedes one-two was the prelude to a similarly impressive one-lap display, or whether Red Bull is waiting to unleash the true performance in that RB20.

Either way, when it comes to performance over a race distance, Hamilton believes Red Bull still has a clear advantage over the rest.

“FP1, we were surprised, it was very very windy this morning, so it was a really difficult session I think for everyone,” Hamilton told Sky F1. “The track was so different compared to last week.

“It was feeling okay, but we didn’t really know where we stood on the C2 tyre and then in this session [FP2], yeah, the car, we made some improvements over the session.

“It’s a shock to see us where we are, we’ll take it for now, but we can’t get ahead of ourselves. We need to keep our heads down, keep working on the setup to try and extract more.

“I think our long-run pace is nowhere near the Red Bulls for example and I think we were a lot closer, so we’ve got some work to do there.”

Asked whether he knows how to bridge that gap to Red Bull, Hamilton said in theory yes, but achieving it is another story considering he is still building up his understanding of the Mercedes W15.

Nonetheless, while he suspects Verstappen will do his trademark disappearing act out front come Grand Prix Saturday if he can avoid any early hold-ups, Hamilton believes Mercedes are in that ‘best of the rest’ battle with the likes of Ferrari, McLaren and Aston Martin.

“I do,” said Hamilton when quizzed on whether he knows how to close the gap to Red Bull. “In terms of achieving that, I don’t know how necessarily with a new car.

“With a new car, you have all new tools. Everything’s been redesigned and so all the previous numbers and names for things are completely shifted, so you’re learning a whole new vocabulary when it comes to the car setup. And we’ve tested some of them, but not all of them, because we only had a day and a half, so we’ll have to see.

“I hope that we can make a step. I’ve got a bit of an idea, but I don’t know how to achieve that yet currently with the setup changes without affecting the other side of things, single lap.

“I think we’re going to be in the mix. I think it’s a bit too early to say, but I think we’re there or thereabouts with Ferrari and maybe Aston and McLaren. I don’t know exactly where we lay with those guys, but we’re around those, so it’s going to close, a nice battle with us.

“I think if Max is in the front he will veer off as he has done for the last couple of years.”

PlanetF1.com recommends

F1 points all-time rankings: Where do Hamilton, Verstappen and Alonso feature?

Where does Lewis Hamilton rank on the longest win droughts for an F1 World Champion?

Hamilton had very little good to say about Mercedes’ previous challengers in the ground effect era, but he gave a far more glowing review of the W15, confirming he is “much happier” with Mercedes’ latest creation.

“I’m much happier with the car this year,” he said. “My seating position is finally further rearwards so I’ve got a better feel for the car approaching the corners.

“But there are other areas that have been fixed and improved and it just feels like a race car for once and the last two cars didn’t feel like that.

“So it’s a really good platform for us to work on and we’ve just got to keep our heads down and keep on chasing.”

Seven-time World Champion Hamilton is on an extended run without victory in Formula 1, having last taken to the top step of the podium at the 2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

Read next – Bahrain Grand Prix: Lewis Hamilton heads Mercedes FP2 1-2 as Max Verstappen down in P6