Mercedes were not sandbagging ahead of the first 2022 Formula 1 World Championship qualifying for the Bahrain Grand Prix, as many suspected, they are indeed in trouble but that challenge inspires Lewis Hamilton.
It was not a good night for Mercedes and their customer teams, perhaps not related but they were all below par or not up to expectations. But it is not all doom and gloom for the Silver Arrows as the deficit to pacesetters Ferrari and Red Bull is not insurmountable.
Hamilton said as much in parc ferme immediately after he qualified fifth for Sunday’s season opener at Sakhir: “I’m not saying I’m relieved, in general, I’m really happy with the day compared to where we’ve been in the last two weeks. It has been a bit of a nightmare to drive, but we kept working and I’m proud of everyone.
“The guys ahead of us are in another league. In general, I’m happy where we are, it’s not the front row but we will make improvements as well as we can. These guys [Red Bull and Ferrari] will be going ahead, we are not in the fight with them, my battle is with the guys behind us. Their performance was quite a bit ahead of us.”
Bahrain tends to be a race of high attrition with strategy options a way to minimise the damage which will be Hamilton’s priority: “There’s a lot to play for at the start and with strategy so I hope I can at least stay with them and stay in the fight. We’re not quick enough to win but I told you that before the weekend.
“It was looking like we were further behind last week, we’ve made some improvements and we’re closer, so I’m proud of what we’ve achieved and where we’ve got to.
“I hope we’ll make another step next week and bit by bit, we’ll hunt those guys down. The improvements come from our collective efforts, we’re working as hard as we can and I know it’s a long, long way to go but I love a challenge,” added the seven-time F1 World Champion.
Mercedes trackside boss, Andrew Shovlin explained in the Bahrain qualy team report: “We know we have to improve before thinking about fighting for the win so our focus is very much on damage limitation in the championships.
“We’ll see where our race pace is, there may be some opportunity for Lewis if either of the Red Bulls or Ferraris are struggling but he should be well placed to race all the cars lining up behind him,” added Shovlin.
Mercedes are seeking a ninth consecutive F1 Constructors’ World Championship this season, with eight of the big trophies already pocketed. But this one may be the toughest ones yet, at the same time if any team can turn the deficit around the Silver Arrows are it.