Max Verstappen recovered from an early spin to win a dramatic Spanish Grand Prix and take the championship lead after Charles Leclerc retired.

Leclerc looked set to increase his advantage over Verstappen in searing heat at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, but the Ferrari driver's race was over when he lost power while leading comfortably on lap 23.

Verstappen had been in the gravel on lap nine and also suffered DRS issues, but the Dutchman led a Red Bull one-two for his third consecutive win to move above Leclerc in the driver standings after Sergio Perez let him through under team orders on lap 49 of 66.

George Russell finished third, with his Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton worked his way back through the field to take fifth place behind Carlos Sainz despite suffering a puncture on the first lap.

Leclerc got a good start to retain his lead, but Hamilton's miserable start to the season was summed up when his he made contact with the Haas of Kevin Magnussen - who went into the gravel - at Turn 4 on the opening lap.

Hamilton limped to the pits with a front-left puncture and was told to continue after suggesting over the team radio that he retires from the race, having returned to the track in 19th place.

Sainz was back in 11th after spinning off at Turn 4 on lap seven and Verstappen was in the gravel at the same section of the circuit two laps later, dropping back from second to fourth.

Russell pitted from second place and Verstappen was also called in on lap 14, with Leclerc leading by over nine seconds.

Verstappen was furious as he was hampered by DRS issues attempting to pass Russell, who fended the Dutchman off to keep second place as they went wheel-to-wheel.

It was all going so well for Leclerc until he lost power with a win there for the taking and Perez soon passed Russell on fresher tyres to take the lead after Verstappen pitted for a new set of softs.

Verstappen was out in front on lap 38 after team-mate Perez and Russell pitted for mediums, then a quick stop for the defending champion put him back on track in third place behind his team-mate.

Perez allowed Verstappen to pass him under team orders and there were no further twists in a pulsating race, with a surging Hamilton passing Sainz to finish fourth until a late technical issue caused him to concede the place back.

Lewis Hamilton was "a little bit gutted" by qualifying sixth for the Spanish Grand Prix but is confident Mercedes can challenge Ferrari on race day. 

Mercedes have endured a dismal start to the season and struggled to match the pace of the Red Bulls and Ferraris, with Hamilton's only podium coming when he finished third in Bahrain. 

There have been significant signs of improvement at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya – where Charles Leclerc pipped Max Verstappen to pole – but the seven-time champion was still outqualified by team-mate George Russell, who will start from fourth. 

However, Hamilton hopes to be able to mix it with the Ferraris ahead of him on Sunday. 

"The team have done a great job so a big, big thank you to everyone for keeping pushing back at the factory because we don't have bouncing in a straight line, which is a huge improvement for us. And the car has generally been nicer this weekend," Hamilton told Sky Sports. 

"I am a little bit gutted [being sixth] because I want to be further up ahead, and you've obviously seen George is able to put it up further ahead than me, but I will keep pushing. 

"[Friday practice] was our best race pace that we've had so if we could start racing with the Ferraris, for example, that would be amazing. 

"I think the Red Bulls look like they might be quickest but we look like we could maybe compete with the Ferraris tomorrow and that is a big step for us." 

Team principal Toto Wolff thinks the bouncing issues that have plagued Mercedes being solved has primed them to make further strides as the season continues. 

"I think we have taken a solid step into Barcelona. You try to keep your expectations at a realistic point and I think where we slotted in is somehow the best we could have expected," said Wolff. 

"My belief is we have a race car more than a qualifying car, but we're going to see tomorrow how it went for the others. I think with Red Bull, they always have the tendency of being much stronger in the race than the Ferraris. 

"We know how to unlock more performance, but we're not yet there. It's step by step. The other teams have continued to develop their cars when we've been in a sort of pause moment to find out about the bouncing. 

"So we can pick up the regular development as soon as we understand the tyres now the bouncing is gone." 

Charles Leclerc recovered from a Q3 spin to take pole as Max Verstappen was left to rue a DRS failure in qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix. 

Ferrari driver Leclerc span out at turn 14 on his first flying lap but produced an immense time with his next and only completed attempt, to ensure he will start from the front of the grid. 

All four of the Monegasque driver's Formula One victories have come after starting on pole. Some 28 of the past 31 winners at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya qualified on the front row.

Verstappen aborted his final lap after reporting a loss of power, with Red Bull team principal Christian Horner confirming to Sky Sports that was due to a DRS issue. 

The Dutchman will consequently start from second, with Ferrari's Carlos Sainz in third.

"I feel good. It was a difficult session, especially in Q3 because I made a mistake in the first run and then only had one lap," said Leclerc.

"But it went extremely well, I had a few moments but made it stick and very happy with pole position. It was a very good lap and the car was amazing too, so very happy.

"We've been struggling with tyres in the last few races compared to Red Bull, so Max is just behind. If we don't manage those tyres we will lose that advantage, so we need to get on top of it.

"I hope we can do a one-two. It will be great for the team and we will give it our all."

Verstappen acknowledged he may not have been able to beat Leclerc's time but still felt second was a good return for the team.

"It's always difficult to tell, I couldn't do my final run. Either the DRS didn't open or I just lost power," he said.

"It's a bit of a shame, but overall to be on the front row here looking at the whole weekend here, it's a good achievement, but I'd have liked to go for that final run.

"Hopefully, our car will be a bit kinder on the tyres again, but it's difficult to tell at the moment."

Sainz added: "I think everything is possible tomorrow. We are definitely going to try our best to get ahead at the start and lead from there, but it wasn't the ideal qualifying because I couldn't set a good lap on the used tyre."

George Russell was fourth and Lewis Hamilton qualified sixth as Mercedes' record run of nine straight poles in Barcelona came to an end.

Mick Schumacher will start 10th after making it through to Q3 for the first time in his career, while home favourite Fernando Alonso was eliminated in Q1 alongside the two controversially remodelled Aston Martins.

PROVISIONAL CLASSIFICATION

1. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 1:18.750
2. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +0.323s
3. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) +0.416s
4. George Russell (Mercedes) +0.643s
5. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) +0.670s
6. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +0.762s
7. Valtteri Bottas (Alfa Romeo) +0.858s
8. Kevin Magnussen (Haas) +0.932s
9. Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren) +1.547s
10. Mick Schumacher (Haas) +1.618s

Lewis Hamilton was "super happy" after a promising practice session for Mercedes ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix.

Hamilton and his team-mate George Russell recorded two of the best three times in FP2, behind Ferrari's Charles Leclerc, who was fastest across both practice sessions at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

Mercedes were also quicker than Red Bull down the straights, which has not been the case so far in a frustrating season for the team.

Russell is fourth in the drivers' standings, two places ahead of seven-time world champion Hamilton, who has not held back in his criticism of Mercedes so far this season.

But on Friday, he was in a much better mood.

"Positive," he told reporters. "Super happy with the progress, so a big, big, big thank you to everyone back at the factory for not giving up and for continuing to push.

"We're not the quickest yet, but we're on our way. This is the first time that we've driven down the straight without bouncing.

"We still have some bouncing, but it's way better and [we're] starting to eke out a bit of the potential in that car.

"It's still tough out there with the car but it's much nicer than it's been before. So yeah, really grateful for those upgrades – we now need to just fine-tune them into the next session.

"Lots of data to go over to try and position the car, I think we can get it into a better place for tomorrow so that we can tackle the heels of the guys up ahead."

Toto Wolff added: "We've had a second solid Friday like we had in Miami, just we have to see when the grip keeps coming tomorrow, whether we're able to keep that kind of performance and at least be in the mix or solid in the top three.

"So, progress, but not exuberance and ecstasy."

Fernando Alonso claims seven-time F1 world champion Lewis Hamilton now knows how the other drivers feel, as Mercedes struggle to keep up with the pace-setters this season.

Hamilton, 37, won six of the seven titles leading into the 2021 season, but he appears incapable of getting back to the mountain top just now, with Mercedes so much slower than Ferrari and Red Bull.

Alonso, 40, won back-to-back championships in 2005 and 2006 with Renault, and after a strong run with Ferrari in the early 2010s, he struggled mightily after his move to McLaren, finishing 17th, 10th, 15th and 11th from 2015 to 2018.

After trying his hand at other racing disciplines in 2019 and 2020, Alonso returned to F1 with Alpine in 2021, where he is now partnered with Esteban Ocon as the two battle it out in the midfield with a car that cannot compete for wins.

Speaking to BBC Sport ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix, Alonso highlighted how often the success of a driver can be out of their hands, and expressed only limited sympathy for Hamilton's struggles this season.

"This is the nature of the sport," Alonso said. "Sometimes you have a better car, sometimes you have not such a good car and you still need to fight and make some progress.

"This year we see that the driver is very important in F1, but not crucial. Lewis is driving as good as he has been the last eight years. He was dominating the sport and breaking all the records and 100-and-something pole positions.

"Now he is doing a mega lap – as he said in Australia or somewhere like that – and he is one second behind. So, yeah – welcome."

Alonso compared his championship years to Hamilton's, saying often the true stars of the team are behind the scenes, while the drivers get to soak in all the glory.

"To have more than 100 pole positions in F1 is something unthinkable. You need to have the best car and package for many, many years," Alonso said.

"He deserves everything he's achieved in the past, but this year is a good reminder that in all those records and numbers, there is a big part on what you have in your hands as a package in the car."

In a show of respect for this generation's most successful driver, Alonso predicted Hamilton will rebound from a slow start and finish ahead of team-mate George Russell this season.

"George has been very fast in the last few years and I think everyone was expecting him to be a tough competitor for Lewis," Alonso said. "But I still believe Lewis will eventually finish the championship in front.

"This is just a five-race championship [so far], but eventually when things are more tricky or [there are] difficult situations, Lewis will still have more experience and maybe more talent."

Mercedes principal Toto Wolff has refused to rule out the team reverting to an older car concept as they continue to trail Red Bull and Ferrari after enduring a poor start to the season.

George Russell and Lewis Hamilton finished fifth and sixth respectively at the inaugural Miami Grand Prix on Sunday as the team's difficult start to the 2022 campaign continued, leading Wolff to declare Mercedes were "in no man's land" as the third-fastest outfit on the grid.

Both drivers have criticised the feel of the team's W13 car after managing just one podium finish apiece this term, with seven-time drivers' champion Hamilton asserting the team were yet to take a "step forward" after a troubled start to the season.

Mercedes' eight-year run of constructors' championships now looks destined to come to an end, with Ferrari possessing a slender lead over Red Bull in the team standings after five races.

Speaking after reigning world champion Max Verstappen claimed victory in Florida, Wolff said a return to the car concept used during pre-season testing at Barcelona could not be ruled out, despite it being "clearly much slower on paper".

However, Wolff said the team's focus had to be on making the current iteration of the car work.

"We need to find out how we can make the current car work predictably for the drivers," he said.

"I wouldn't discount anything. But we need to give all of our people that have produced great race cars in the past the benefit of the doubt and we believe this is the route to go.

"We are faithful to the current concept. We're not looking at the lady next door [to see] if we like it more or not, because it's still good. 

"We need to understand, before we make a decision on another concept – where did this one go wrong? And what is the goodness of the concept and what is the badness of the concept?"

Lewis Hamilton was frustrated to be asked to make the call on whether to pit under a virtual safety car during the Miami Grand Prix. 

It seemed like Hamilton would take advantage of the opportunity to switch onto fresh tyres after Lando Norris and Pierre Gasly collided, as team-mate George Russell did. 

However, Mercedes appeared to dither on whether to pit the seven-time champion, who eventually opted to stay out on the hard compound. 

Hamilton ended up being overtaken by Russell in the closing stages and finished directly behind him in sixth, with the two Ferraris coming between race winner Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez. 

The Mercedes driver did not understand why he was left to make the call on whether to pit or not. 

"In that scenario [the virtual safety car], I have no clue where everyone is, so when the team say it's your choice, I don't have the information to make the decision," Hamilton told Sky Sports. 

"That's what your job is, make the decision for me; you've got all the details, I don't. So, that's what you rely on the guys for, but today they gave it to me and I didn't understand it. 

"But anyway, it's just been a bit unfortunate with the safety car, but at least we got points today. We're finishing, reliability is good. I'm excited to at some stage to take a step forward, which we haven't yet." 

Team principal Toto Wolff revealed Mercedes are struggling for morale as the usually dominant team continue to find themselves quite a distance behind Red Bull and Ferrari this season.

"George stayed out a long time, and we were betting on a safety car for him and that materialised from nowhere, but it went against Lewis, who lost a position," said Wolff. 

"At the end of the day, there's no happy or not happy moment at the moment. It's just a bit down. We're third quickest on the road, which is no man's land. This is where we are. 

"We're not as quick in qualifying sometimes, and you have the outliers, and we go back to where we are, which is behind the Red Bulls and Ferrari." 

Russell, who failed to get out of Q2 on Saturday and started 12th, believes Mercedes do have a good car this year but are yet to find a way to get it working well for them.

"It was mixed feelings. Based on [Saturday] it was a good result. We have a fast race car in there, we don't have the key to unlock it. There's more to do," he said. 

"It's frustrating, but I'm sure we'll get there at some point. 

"It's good, when you battle with your team-mate, you show more respect, give more space. I enjoyed it. I think there's good respect between us. I was pushing as hard as I could." 

Max Verstappen sealed his second straight Formula One win by getting the better of Charles Leclerc at the maiden Miami Grand Prix. 

Reigning champion Verstappen – who started in third – got past Carlos Sainz and pole-sitter Leclerc in the early stages and never looked back. 

It was not entirely plain sailing for the Red Bull driver, with a safety car deployed after Lando Norris collided with Pierre Gasly seeing his seven-second advantage evaporate. 

Leclerc was on Verstappen's tail thereafter, but the Dutchman got out of DRS range by setting the fastest lap and cut the Monegasque's championship lead to 19 points. 

Verstappen got away well at lights out and dived down the outside of Sainz at Turn One, while DRS helped him reel in Leclerc by lap nine. 

Leclerc was unable to retaliate with the Ferrari lacking pace on the straights, and Verstappen gradually established a lead of almost eight seconds. 

The collision between Norris and Gasly, which forced both drivers to retire, initially brought out a virtual safety car on lap 41 of 57, but that was quickly upgraded to a full safety car. 

Neither Verstappen nor Leclerc were able to get into the pits quick enough for fresh tyres, but the Ferrari man was seemingly energised by having the Red Bull back in his sights. 

However, after failing to make a move, Leclerc started to lose time and Verstappen took the chequered flag in relative comfort.

Red Bull are hopeful DRS and a strategic edge could help them overhaul Ferrari in Sunday's inaugural Miami Grand Prix, with drivers expecting racing to be difficult on a surface that has been branded "a joke".

World championship leader Charles Leclerc took pole ahead of Carlos Sainz as qualifying ended in a Ferrari one-two.

Max Verstappen was third ahead of Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez, who did not mince his words when asked about the track following qualifying.

Echoing a sentiment shared by seemingly every driver in the paddock, Perez was emphatic in his criticism of a lack of grip off the racing line.

"I think most importantly the surface is a joke," Perez told Autosport when asked if there will be overtaking during the race.

"Tomorrow the racing is going to be difficult. And you're going to have the drivers making mistakes because we've been put into this situation."

With racing potentially set to be compromised, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner pointed to the deployment of DRS on straights where Red Bull have a pace advantage over Ferrari as an area where the race could be decided in their favour.

Praising the performance of Verstappen, whose qualifying session was impacted by a lack of track time in Friday practice because of gearbox and hydraulics issues, Horner said: "Max has been on the back foot, he's down on laps on the other guys and still learning about the track so it's a good recovery from him.

"We know both our cars have good straight-line speed and the DRS could be pretty powerful here tomorrow, and with all the support races the braking zones should open up a bit, so there are a couple of places where we should be able to overtake.

"Strategy and pit stops will be crucial, as no one has really been able to do any long runs, it should be a fascinating contest tomorrow."

Leclerc topped the timesheets with a lap of one minute and 28.796 seconds, reaping the benefit of upgrades that appear to have strengthened the hand of the team that have emerged as the favourites to win both championships.

"It's definitely better," Leclerc said of the performance of his F1-75. "Yes, I mean both cars are very competitive, so Carlos and I are very competitive.

"So, it's great for the team and yes, we'll push to try and finish in the same positions tomorrow.

"It is a very strong package that we have, it works in more or less every condition since the beginning of the season so that is a good sign for the future.

"As I've said many times, the upgrades this year will be very, very important. We've had a few here that went in the right direction and hopefully we'll have a few more throughout the season to stay on top."

Verstappen will be out to ensure Ferrari do not stay on top in Florida and joked he may need to call his father for advice, former F1 driver Jos having recently returned to motorsport as a rally driver.

He said: "It's quite slippery outside the racing line, it almost feels like gravel, maybe I need to call my Dad and ask for some rally advice."

Lewis Hamilton has hit back at Helmut Marko's suggestion he should have retired last year, calling the Red Bull advisor's words "disrespectful" and pledging to use any criticism thrown his way as "fuel".

Hamilton has made a poor start to the 2022 campaign after losing the drivers' championship title to Max Verstappen in a thrilling conclusion to the 2021 season, finishing 13th at the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix last time out.

After the seven-time world champion was lapped by Verstappen at Imola, Marko, who made nine Formula One starts in his own racing career in the early 1970s before being made blind in one eye by an accident, suggested Hamilton might be regretting his decision to participate this season.

"I mean, he was lapped by us, so I don't know," Marko told Sky Sports F1 in the aftermath of the race. "Maybe he is thinking he should have stopped last year."

On the eve of the inaugural Miami Grand Prix, Hamilton said such comments will only motivate him to get back to top form.

"People always love you when you're up, and love to kick you when you're down. It's a part of life," Hamilton told Sky Sports.

"Naturally, I've seen some people I've grown up admiring as a kid and even in the sport, that have come out with some things, some disrespectful, or not particularly respectful of my name.

"For me, I have to make sure I use that as fuel. I'm putting that into the pot, and I'm going to turn that into a positive and come back stronger. We are going to come back stronger as a team.

"Four bad races, or five, six, seven, 10 bad races… is not going to stop me doing what I love doing. It's not going to stop me in my tracks.

"I've been racing for 29 years and I've had way more difficult times than this and bounced back. It's not how you fall, it's how you get up.

"Nothing you say or do is going to stop me in my tracks."

Hamilton sits seventh in the drivers' championship standings after four races of the new season, having recorded just one podium finish so far this term.

 

Lewis Hamilton warned Formula One risks taking "a step backwards" if governing body FIA continues to impose "unnecessary" jewellery regulations on drivers.

New race director Niels Wittich, who replaced Michael Masi at the start of the season, reminded drivers at the Australian Grand Prix in early April that the FIA's code prohibits drivers wearing jewellery in the car.

Hamilton still competed in Melbourne with piercings in both ears and a nose stud, and Wittich has reiterated the rulings ahead of the inaugural Miami Grand Prix this weekend.

Wittich explained that wearing jewellery under flameproof clothing can reduce protection and increase the risk of burn damage, but Hamilton remains staunch in his refusal to conform to the FIA's demands.

"I couldn't get any more jewellery on today," the Mercedes star told reporters on Friday.

"But I don't really have a lot more to add than what I already said the last time I was in front of you guys and we spoke about it.

"I feel it's almost like a step backwards. If you think of the steps we're taking as a sport and the more important issues and causes that we need to be focused on and really pushing.

"I think we've made such great strides as a sport. Look, we're here in Miami. This is such a small thing – I've been in the sport for 16 years, I've been wearing jewellery for 16 years.

"In the car I only ever have my earrings on and my nose ring, which I can't even remove. So it seems unnecessary for us to get into this spat."

The jewellery ban has been in place since 2004, but Wittich made a special effort to stress the rule in his pre-race notes in Melbourne before reaffirming his demands in the United States.

Hamilton also revealed he has reached out to FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem, although he is yet to get through, to try to find a resolution and encourage greater attention on more important matters.

"I am willing to sign a waiver to take the responsibility away from them if necessary," the seven-time world champion added. "It is about individuality and being who you are.

"I did try calling Mohammed this morning and I think he was super busy but I sent him a message. I wanted to reassure him and said: 'I want to be an ally. I don't want to fight with you guys over this.'

"It has never been a safety issue in the past. If they stop me, we have a spare driver. There are lots of things to do here."

AlphaTauri driver Pierre Gasly was quick to back Hamilton.

"I do believe there are bigger things to focus on," Gasly said. "I appreciate the FIA are looking after our safety.

"But in my case I am religious and there are things I have with me that I do not feel comfortable not having in the car.

"In the end, we are the ones who go out there and put our lives at risk and I do feel it should be a personal choice. I hope in the end we could find a better solution than this very strict one."

Max Verstappen has rejected Lewis Hamilton's complaints about Mercedes' W13 car, saying George Russell's early successes with the team show it is "not all horrific".

Verstappen claimed his second victory of the 2022 campaign at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix last time out, with Sergio Perez following him home to ensure Red Bull's first one-two since the 2016 Malaysian Grand Prix.

Seven-time champion Hamilton, meanwhile, has struggled since losing the title to Verstappen in the closing seconds of 2021's final race in Abu Dhabi, and was lapped by the Red Bull driver at Imola as he toiled to a 13th-place finish.

On Thursday, Hamilton repeated criticism of his team's car, comparing it to his struggles in the 2009 season when he finished fifth, telling The Race: "There are people that watch and say I've never had a bad car, and I can assure you that I have. 2009's car was very, very far off – the worst car that I've had. This car currently is not far off that experience."

But Hamilton's new team-mate Russell is yet to finish outside the top five since joining Mercedes, which Verstappen says is evidence the team's car is not as bad as Hamilton claims.

The reigning world champion, however, denied that he enjoyed lapping Hamilton in Italy, claiming he was simply focusing on his own race.

"To be honest, it wasn't something I was enjoying at the time," he told the Telegraph ahead of the inaugural Miami Grand Prix. "I was just focused on my race, on getting through the traffic as cleanly as possible and winning. 

"It wasn't like I was saying, 'Oh, I'm lapping Lewis, what an amazing feeling'. I had great battles with Lewis last year. Now he's in a car which is not so great.

"Having said that, of course, George does finish fourth in that car [at Imola]. So, it is not all horrific, right?

"I'd say [Hamilton's] car had quite a bit more pace than the midfield traffic. But yeah, it was hard to pass. I mean also when there was only one dry line and when you don't have, let's say, a top speed advantage anymore. 

"It makes it a lot harder to judge how far Lewis was off George. But clearly the whole weekend George was doing really well." 

Verstappen sits second in the drivers' standings after Red Bull's erratic start to the season, in which the Dutch driver has posted two victories but failed to finish twice. 

Lewis Hamilton believes Formula One's popularity in the United States is "booming" ahead of the inaugural Miami Grand Prix on Sunday.

Miami's first Grand Prix will take place later this week after the Miami International Autodrome agreed a 10-year contract to stage the race, meaning the United States will host two events in the 2022 season, with Austin, Texas hosting the United States Grand Prix in October, while a Las Vegas Grand Prix will be introduced next year.

Hamilton, who holds the record for most wins in Austin (six), has struggled at the outset of the new campaign, sitting seventh in the driver's standings after finishing a disappointing 13th at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix last time out.

In an interview with ABC'S Good Morning America, the seven-time drivers' champion said he was excited to be participating in the USA, highlighting the role of Netflix's 'Drive to Survive' documentary series in boosting the sport's stateside popularity.

"It's a bit nerve-racking because I think it's going to be a huge event for us," he said. "We obviously had the race in Austin, Texas, which has always been amazing. The first race I had out here was Indianapolis in 2007.

"But now, with Netflix's Drive to Survive series growing, we have two Grands Prix in the States and we have another one in Las Vegas next year, it's going to be huge.

"I've been coming out here for a long time, but never understood why people weren't into Formula One.

"Everyone knew NASCAR, and obviously there are such huge sporting fans out here and this Netflix show, particularly through the pandemic, has just brought massive awareness to the sport, and now it's booming."

Meanwhile, the 37-year-old used his appearance on the show to highlight the launch of his Mission 44 Foundation, which aims to "support, champion and empower young people from underrepresented groups to succeed through narrowing opportunity gaps across society."

Hamilton said his experience of working in Formula One, an industry in which ethnic minority groups remain severely underrepresented, motivated the foundation's mission.

"It's been generally quite a lonely journey. It's been me and my family. We're the only black family [in the sport]," he added.

"I've been racing 29 years. I'm 37 now, but I've been professional for 16 years. I've most often been the only person of colour in the room and when I asked the question [why], there was no great feedback or answer to that.

"So we've now started Mission 44, which I've funded myself, to try and create more representation and support and empowerment for these young, underserved groups."

Despite out-driving his famous Mercedes team-mate early in the season, George Russell has nothing but praise for seven-time Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton.

Hamilton, 37, got off to a solid start in Bahrain after qualifying fifth and sneaking onto the podium when both Red Bull cars were retired, but his fourth-placed finish in Australia is sandwiched by crossing the line 10th in Saudi Arabia and a disappointing 13th in Imola.

Meanwhile, Russell has finished no worse than fifth in any race, despite having a best starting position of sixth, both in Australia and Saudi Arabia.

It means Russell occupies fourth position in the driver standings, just 10 points away from Max Verstappen in second, while Hamilton is back in seventh.

Speaking to Sky Sports F1, Russell said he has no doubts about the "inspiring" Hamilton's quality, and his likelihood of returning to form.

"Lewis has clearly got the pace," he said. "He's incredibly fast, and he's showed that so far this year, but it's just been tricky for us as a team to get it done when the time is needed.

"When things have been more stable, Lewis has still been massively fast.

"I know there was a bit of a blip last weekend, but I have no doubt he's going to come back, and the way he's pushing the team and motivating the team is truly inspiring.

"We all want more. He wants more. Nobody is happy with the position we're in currently."

While Russell acknowledged that some of the team's problems have been out of the drivers' hands, he said they are issues he is also having to combat, and that his time at Williams has prepared him to make the most out of difficult situations.

"We are equally struggling," he said. "When the car is so far out of bed and it's not in the right window, it doesn't really feel like a proper racing car to drive.

"Perhaps with my struggles at Williams, with very difficult cars, maybe that's helped in some small regard.

"But Lewis will come back stronger, I have no doubt. He's definitely going to be pushing me all the way.

"I'm not getting comfortable in this position because I know what he's capable of."

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff commended his young star, and stressed his team is determined to provide their drivers with cars they can compete with.

"I'm very impressed with how [Russell has] settled in," he said. "How professionally and analytically he is helps us to assess the situation.

"The combination [of Russell and Hamilton], that's one of the very few highlights I have at the moment on our journey – the two of them work together with no friction. On the contrary, it is very, very productive and positive for the team and I couldn't be happier with the driver line-up.

"We have two of maybe the three best drivers, and they deserve a car and a power unit that makes them fight in the front rather than being lapped. That's not what any of them deserves."

Red Bull team advisor Helmut Marko could not help but add insult to injury following the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix on Sunday, suggesting Lewis Hamilton should have retired at the end of last season.

The seven-time Formula One world champion finished out of the points in 13th position at Imola and to compound the misery, was lapped by rival Max Verstappen, who went on to win the race in a one-two for Red Bull.

Mercedes have struggled to come to grips with porpoising as a result of new regulations this season, but Hamilton's form is in stark contrast to that of team-mate George Russell, who sits 21 points ahead in the driver's standings and finished fourth on Sunday.

When asked how Hamilton might be feeling after Imola, Marko could not resist.

"I mean, he was lapped by us, so I don't know," Marko told Sky Sports F1. "Maybe he is thinking he should have stopped last year,"

Verstappen played down the gravity of Hamilton being lapped, however, saying it's a natural consequence of the disparity in performance between the Red Bull and Mercedes packages.

"They've been slow all year so for me it's not really anything exciting, it just happens," he said.

Verstappen's win at Imola was an assured drive, the Dutchman untroubled from pole to finish. With Carlos Sainz out on the opening lap, Red Bull were able to put second-placed Sergio Perez on a different strategy to force Ferrari's hand with championship leader Charles Leclerc.

The reigning world champion moved to second place in the driver's standings on 59 points, 27 points behind Leclerc, who recovered from a spin on lap 53 to finish sixth.

Marko asserted the one-two was a critical result from the standpoints of team morale and the championship, following DNFs in Bahrain and Australia.

"It was very important after our problems in Bahrain and Australia from the engine side…another one-two, the last one was 2016 in Malaysia," Marko said.

"It was about time, for the morale and everything it's more than important. It showed that we are competitive, we just have to get the package together and then we are there.

"There are so many races coming, the important thing is that we have such a strong package, so the championship will be very exciting but hopefully it doesn't go the last race like last year."

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