Lewis Hamilton gave his verdict on Mercedes’ current form after finishing fifth in the Japanese Grand Prix, believing the situation was bad as 2022.
Mercedes were the fourth fastest team in Japan, behind Red Bull, McLaren, and Ferrari, and while Hamilton finished two places ahead of where he started (seventh), he was almost 50 seconds away from race winner Max Verstappen.
The seven-time Formula 1 Champion had to fight many cars on his way to the chequered flag, his teammate George Russell included as the Mercedes pair slugged it out, too close for comfort at some time, maybe feeling more free in the absence of boss Toto Wolff (absent due to knee surgery) and giving his deputy Jerome d’Ambrosio a baptism of fire.
In the end, firm team orders came to Russell, who gambled on a one-stop strategy, to allow Hamilton through as both were a risk of being overtaken by Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz. Russell finished seventh.
Speaking after the race, Hamilton told Sky Sports F1: “I’m exhausted, for one. Fighting with absolutely everything I have to get as high up as possible and get ahead of Ferrari, which had an upgrade this week so they were particularly quick.
“They have been quicker the last three races,” he pointed. “It was a hell of a fight. I scored the most points for the team, I’m really trying to hold on [to second] for the constructors’ title because I really know how important it is for everyone back at the factories.”
Hamilton claimed his W14 was acting as its infamous predecessor, the W13, that was basically an evil Silver bouncing trap in 2022.
He said: “Giving it absolutely everything, but it’s tough on weekends like this particularly where the car is such a handful. Basically the exact same as last year, so feeling-wise the car felt just the same as last year, bouncing and sliding.
“So that’s tough given how much work we have done to progress and we are not any closer to the front, at least here.
“But we did get ahead of one of the Ferraris which is great team work and great work from the guys in the pit stop and with strategy.
“A long way to go,” the winner of 103 grands prix maintained, before going on to explain what Mercedes need to do to be in better shape in 2024.
Next six months of development crucial for Mercedes
He said: “There are things that I’ve asked for that we’ve gone in part of the direction for next year. I think all the points that George and I give have been fully listened to.
“I have no idea where the car is going to be next year but we are a long, long way away. The next six months have got to be the greatest six months of development that we’ve ever, ever had to close that gap. To be really banging on the door.
“But the evidence is there at the McLarens and we can’t turn a blind eye to that. We’ve got to look at what they’ve done and go in that direction. That is the direction. But I truly believe my team can do it.
“We’ve always been great at putting downforce on the car, it’s just that with the way our car currently works, adding downforce isn’t working – it just makes it bounce more,” he explained.
“Hopefully with the change in philosophy we will be back to where this team deserve because this is a world championship team. We still are an amazing team and I have absolute faith in everyone.
But decisions that are made in this period of time are critical for our trajectory,” Hamilton concluded.
Russell insisted taking a risk on a one-stop strategy was worth it, he reflected: “It was definitely worth the punt.
Russell: That radio is a vent to release some frustration
“The three-stop would probably have been faster than the one-stop but the one-stop gave us a chance to be P3 if there was a Safety Car or red flag, or even if overtaking was slightly harder than we predicted.
“Ultimately, we did have a shot but the end result is a fair representation,” he reckoned.
The younger of he Mercedes pair expressed his frustration with team orders issued to him to let Hamilton by; he commented: “When you’re in the car and 48 laps in, you’re giving it everything and you’re making a sub-optimal strategy to try and work. That radio is a vent to release some frustration.
“Overtaking was difficult. You saw Piastri with much fresher tyres and a much faster car this weekend, he didn’t fly by. It took him two laps.
“For me the goal is to secure P2 in the constructors’. On my personal side, the drivers’ championship is totally out of the window. It’s been a complete disaster of a season, so many missed chances.
“Lewis is in a really good position for P3. Standing here now, it’s all good,” Russell concluded.
The result from Suzuka, and despite Verstappen only scoring points for Red Bull, meant the 2023 F1 Constructors’ Title is now sealed by the Milton Keynes squad, as Mercedes who are still second will now have to focus on keeping third-placed Ferrari at bay, the latter only 20 points behind.