Lewis Hamilton expects Red Bull to be ‘very clear for the next couple of years’

By Sports Desk November 05, 2023

Lewis Hamilton all but wrote off his chances of challenging for a record eighth world championship for the next two years following Mercedes’ “inexcusable” performance at Sunday’s Brazilian Grand Prix.

As Max Verstappen extended his winning record to 17 races in the most dominant season Formula One has ever seen, Mercedes endured an abysmal afternoon.

Hamilton took the chequered flag in eighth, an eye-watering 63 seconds behind, with George Russell forced to retire the other Mercedes.

Performances at the previous two rounds had afforded Hamilton and Mercedes hope that they were closing the gap to Verstappen’s Red Bull team.

Armed with a new floor, Hamilton finished second in Austin, before he was disqualified after his Mercedes failed a post-race scrutineering check. He was runner-up again in Mexico seven days later, this time with a legal car, 14 sec adrift of Verstappen.

But the Silver Arrows were dealt a grizzly reality check here.

Far from being any closer to Red Bull, Mercedes were slower than McLaren, Aston Martin, Ferrari and the mid-table Alpine team, with Pierre Gasly embarrassing the former world champions when he batted aside Hamilton and Russell.

Hamilton admitted after Saturday’s sprint race – where he laboured to seventh, 35 seconds behind Verstappen – that he was counting down the days until the end of the season.

Twenty-four hours later he expressed his fear that he will not be in a position to take on Verstappen before his £100million two-year deal expires at the end of 2025.

Hamilton, 39 in January, said: “All I can do is try to remain optimistic. But the Red Bull is so far away, they’re probably going to be very clear for the next couple of years.

“I knew it would be a tough one. In the moment, it is a setback. But as a team we will just come together and try to push forward.”

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff could not hide his despair at the result.

“An inexcusable performance,” the 51-year-old Austrian said.

“There are no words for it. The car finished second last week and the week before and whatever we did to it was horrible.

“Lewis survived out there. I can only feel for the two driving. It is a miserable thing. The car is on a knife’s edge and we have to develop it better for next year because in seven days you cannot have one of the quickest cars (in Mexico) and then you are nowhere.

“The car almost drove like it was on three wheels and not on four. This car doesn’t deserve a win.”

The start had been mildly encouraging for Hamilton. The seven-time world champion started third, up from his grid spot of fifth, when the race resumed after Alex Albon crashed into the wall and his loose tyre narrowly missed striking Daniel Ricciardo on the head.

But Mercedes’ abject pace was soon laid bare for all to see. Fernando Alonso wasted no time in racing past Hamilton at the Curva do Lago on lap four.

With Russell one place behind Hamilton, and having no luck in calling on Mercedes to move his team-mate out of the way, the black-liveried duo started tumbling back through the field.

Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll and Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz made light work of the two Englishmen. Gasly was next, leaving Hamilton in eighth and Russell one place back. Russell was then told to retire his car with an engine failure 12 laps from the end.

Hamilton now trails Perez by 32 points in the race for runner-up in the championship after the Red Bull driver failed to take the final spot on the podium.

Perez got ahead of Alonso on the penultimate lap only for the Spaniard to blast back past the next time round. The two drivers then went toe to toe on the 200mph drag to the chequered flag, with Perez finishing just 0.053 seconds behind.

Lando Norris took second, following another fine drive. He even threatened Verstappen for the lead on lap eight before the Dutchman reasserted his authority.

The 26-year-old’s latest triumph ensures he will end the year with the greatest win ratio ever seen over a single season.

Verstappen has won 85 per cent of the races, and with just rounds in Las Vegas and Abu Dhabi to follow, he will post a greater one-campaign ratio than Alberto Ascari’s 71-year record which stands at 75 per cent.

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    Lando Norris fears Max Verstappen’s “boring” dominance of Formula One is forcing fans away.

    Verstappen became the first driver this century to start the season with five consecutive pole positions after a crushing performance in qualifying for Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix.

    The Dutchman, 26, saw off Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez by 0.322 seconds at the Shanghai International Circuit to take top spot, after he earlier raced from fourth to first in the 19-lap sprint race.

    Remarkably, since Verstappen beat Lewis Hamilton to the 2021 world championship in Abu Dhabi, the Red Bull driver has won 37 of the 48 races staged, and he is firmly on course to wrap up his fourth title in as many seasons.

    Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has already said that Verstappen will not be caught – despite there being 20 races of this record-breaking 24-race season left.

    And speaking ahead of the fifth round of the campaign in China, Norris, considered to be Verstappen’s best friend on the grid, said: “It is frustrating for people watching but it has always been like this.

    “Now, we are seeing more dominance than ever, so it is never going to be the best to watch and the only exciting races have been the ones that Max is not in.”

    Asked if he was concerned Verstappen’s stranglehold on the sport could be a turn-off for fans, Norris replied: “Of course it is going to be. Of course it is going be. There is no way you can say it won’t be.

    “If you see the same driver winning every single time without a fight then of course it does start to become boring and that is obvious.

    “You have got one of the best drivers ever in Formula One, in one of the most dominant cars and it is a combination that is deadly. If Max wasn’t there and you had two (Sergio) Perezs it wouldn’t be the case.”

    Verstappen struggled for speed in the early stages of Saturday’s sprint race but he caught, and overtook, Lewis Hamilton on the ninth lap and then pulled out an eye-watering two seconds on the Mercedes driver in just one lap. He took the chequered flag 13 sec clear.

    Fernando Alonso was the closest non-Red Bull finisher to Verstappen in qualifying but the Spaniard was almost half-a-second back.

    Norris, 24, continued: “Am I surprised how far Red Bull is ahead? No. When you know how tricky it is to get it right, then it makes sense. They are just smart people.

    “You hope teams plateau and we are starting to get there but at the same time to suddenly jump and catch them (Red Bull), it just doesn’t work like that.”

    Mercedes, behind Red Bull, Ferrari and Norris’ McLaren in the constructors’ standings, are a team far removed from the one which dominated the sport.

    Hamilton will start 18th in China on Sunday, with team-mate George Russell only eighth on the grid.

    Norris, who qualified fourth, added: “If you look at how dominant Mercedes have been in the past, you would have expected more from them. I did, especially how much over the last few years they have said: ‘ah, now we have got it’, and they never seem to.

    “We have had that, where we have hit another roadblock, so it is tricky. But they were almost more competitive last year than they are now and you just wouldn’t expect that from them. But it shows how complicated this sport can be.”

  • Lewis Hamilton insists he is ‘mentally strong’ after worst qualifying since 2017 Lewis Hamilton insists he is ‘mentally strong’ after worst qualifying since 2017

    Lewis Hamilton insisted he is “mentally very strong” after his worst qualifying in nearly seven years which was labelled a “disaster” and “unnecessary” by former rival Nico Rosberg.

    Hamilton will line up in 18th position for Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix after his troubled start to the new season took another desperate twist in Shanghai.

    Earlier on Saturday, Hamilton rolled back the years to lead the sprint race for eight laps before he had to settle for second after he was overtaken by eventual winner Max Verstappen.

    But four hours after a result Hamilton described as his “best in a long time”, the 39-year-old was brought crashing back down to earth when he was eliminated in the opening phase of qualifying for Sunday’s main event.

    The seven-time world champion locked up at the penultimate corner on his speediest lap, and he finished in the Q1 knockout zone, leaving only RB’s Yuki Tsunoda and Williams’ Logan Sargeant behind him on the grid.

    An exasperated Mercedes boss Toto Wolff looked to the heavens after Hamilton’s fate was confirmed.

    “Sorry guys,” reported Hamilton over the radio. He finished eight tenths off the pace and half-a-second behind George Russell in the other Mercedes.

    Hamilton last suffered such a lowly grid spot when he crashed out of qualifying in Brazil in 2017.

    “That is seriously painful,” said Rosberg, who endured a fractious relationship with Hamilton as they duelled for the title.

    The German, who eventually beat Hamilton to the championship in 2016 before retiring only days later, added in commentary for Sky Sports: “It was really unnecessary to push the limit and as a seven-time world champion that is a mistake which should be avoidable.

    “He broke three metres too late, and he had the brake balance too far forward. He lost at least four tenths which easily would have put him in Q2. That’s a disaster.”

    Aside from his strong showing in Saturday’s 19-lap dash to the chequered flag – assisted by his impressive display in Friday’s rain-hit qualifying session – this has been Hamilton’s worst-ever start to a season.

    The British driver, who is leaving Mercedes to join Ferrari next year, failed to finish inside the top six at the opening four rounds of the campaign. And his bleak result leaves him staring at another underwhelming race.

    Addressing Rosberg’s remarks, Hamilton said: “It wasn’t one of my best qualifying laps. I don’t blame anything on the team.

    “I’m very strong mentally. It’s not great, it’s not a mind-f*** at all. S*** happens, you know.

    “Sometimes you get it right, sometimes you get it wrong. This car is on a knife edge so it can easily do what we did.”

    Mercedes are desperately out of sorts and far removed from the all-conquering team which carried Hamilton to six of his seven record-equalling titles.

    Russell will be the lead car when the lights go out for Sunday’s 57-lap race. He qualified only eighth.

    Over at Red Bull, it was business as usual as Verstappen followed up his convincing sprint win with a fifth straight pole.

    The Dutchman, who is on course to take his fourth championship in as many seasons, saw off team-mate Sergio Perez as Red Bull secured a front-row lockout. It also marked the team’s 100th pole in F1.

    Verstappen finished 0.322 seconds clear of Perez, with Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso third, half-a-second back.

    Lando Norris, who dropped from pole to finish a disappointing sixth in the sprint race, qualified fourth, one position ahead of Oscar Piastri in the other McLaren. Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz finished sixth and seventh respectively for Ferrari.

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    Lewis Hamilton’s troubled start to the new season took another desperate twist on Saturday after he qualified a lowly 18th for the Chinese Grand Prix.

    Hamilton earlier in the day had led the sprint race in Shanghai for eight laps before he had to settle for runner-up after he was overtaken by eventual winner Max Verstappen.

    But less than four hours after Hamilton’s drive to second place – a result he described as his “best in a long time” – the 39-year-old was brought crashing back down to earth when he was eliminated in the opening phase of qualifying for Sunday’s main event.

    The seven-time world champion locked up at the penultimate corner on his speediest lap, and he finished in the Q1 knockout zone, leaving only RB’s Yuki Tsunoda and Williams’ Logan Sargeant behind him on the grid.

    An exasperated Mercedes boss Toto Wolff looked to the heavens after Hamilton’s fate was confirmed.

    “Sorry guys,” reported Hamilton, 39, over the radio. He finished eight tenths off the pace and half-a-second behind George Russell in the other Mercedes.

    Aside from his strong showing in Saturday’s 19-lap dash to the chequered flag, this has been Hamilton’s worst-ever start to a season.

    The British driver, who is leaving Mercedes to join Ferrari next year, failed to finish inside the top six at the opening four rounds of the campaign. And his bleak result in qualifying here leaves him staring at another underwhelming result.

    Carlos Sainz, the man who is giving up his seat at Ferrari for Hamilton next year, brought out a red flag in Q2 after he lost control of his Ferrari.

    The Spaniard dropped his rear wheels on to the gravel on the exit of the final corner, sending him backwards into the wall on the opposing side of the track.

    Sainz broke his front wing but he was able to limp back to the pits.

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