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2024 Australian Grand Prix, Friday - Sam Bloxham

Hamilton ditching Mercedes for Ferrari at the right time

2024 Australian Grand Prix, Friday Hamilton ditching Mercedes for Ferrari at the right time Sam Bloxham

Lewis Hamilton’s early season woes were compounded by Mercedes confirming that the seven-times Formula 1 world champion has already lost one of his four allotted Power Units, meaning he could face grid penalties later in the 24-race season.

Hamilton, in his final season with the Silver Arrows before he joins Ferrari next year, retired from the Australian Grand Prix after a sudden power unit failure, which was later determined to be terminal. The Mercedes driver is a five-time winner in Japan.

“That one is for the bin,” Mercedes F1 boss Toto Wolff told a press conference during at Suzuka circuit on Friday. “It is a very highly unusual failure that we have a hardware failure that we didn’t see coming before.

“So yeah, we can’t reuse that. And it depends on how the season develops, whether we need one more or not. I can’t really say at this stage,” added Wolff.

George Russell in the other Mercedes crashed in Melbourne which meant it was the first time two Merc drivers did not finish a race in five years.

Hamilton, who finished third in the 2023 F1 drivers’ standings behind Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez in 2023, is languishing in 10th this season. He was P5 at the end of FP1 at Suzuka today, around half a second behind pacesetter Verstappen.

Hamilton: The car was definitely in a sweeter spot

2024 Japanese Grand Prix, Friday - LAT Hamilton ditching Mercedes for Ferrari at the right time

While it is not that uncommon for drivers to face penalties for exceeding engine quotas, losing one so early in the 24-race F1 calendar is a worrying sign for Mercedes beset with reliability problems in recent seasons.

After the first practice session of the weekend at Suzuka today, reporting in the wake of rain-affected FP2, Hamilton was upbeat: “FP1 was a great session for us. It was the best session for us so far this year and the best the car has felt. I felt very positive and excited heading into FP2 as this is a circuit that every driver loves to drive.

“It was a shame not to get much running in, therefore. In the last two years here, we’ve struggled with a car that has had an inconsistent balance and has been difficult to drive. The team has done a lot of great work since Australia, and we seemed to hit the ground running today.

“The car was definitely in a sweeter spot. We’ve got a better baseline to start from this weekend and hopefully, we can build on that,” reckoned Hamilton, who has not added to his record 103-F1 wins since 2021.

Ahead of Round 4 in Japan on Sunday, Hamilton’s final year with Mercedes could well be his worst, suggesting that the Briton has shrewdly picked a fine time to make his mega-move to Ferrari for 2025.

The Reds won with Carlos Sainz in Australia and are looking closer to the pace-setting Red Bulls than last season, and well ahead of Mercedes in the current F1 pecking order which bodes well for Hamilton’s arrival at Ferrari.  (Reporting by John Geddie; Additional Reporting Agnes Carlier at Suzuka)

Big Question: Is Lewis Hamilton ditching Mercedes for Ferrari at the right time?