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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  • Lewis Hamilton gears up for Mercedes farewell but Red Bull rule set to continue Lewis Hamilton gears up for Mercedes farewell but Red Bull rule set to continue

    “If Lewis were to leave,” pondered George Russell as he addressed the prospect of Hamilton joining Ferrari. “That would put Mercedes in a tricky spot. It would almost look like he’s lost faith in the team.”

    Russell was speaking in an episode of Netflix’s newly-released Drive to Survive series – a chapter the Mercedes’ PR machine envisaged would celebrate Hamilton’s decision to stay with them.

    Hamilton, after all, had signed a two-year contract extension last August to remain with the Silver Arrows until the end of 2025.

    But following Hamilton’s shock decision to tear up his contract a year early in favour of a move to Ferrari, Russell’s remarks – too late to be pulled from Netflix’s sixth season – shed a very public spotlight on the awkward dynamic that faces the grid’s once-dominant team and its superstar driver ahead of the new season which starts in Bahrain on Saturday night.

    Mercedes transformed Hamilton from a man with a single world championship to a one-man winning machine. He has seven world championships and 103 victories. No other driver in history can boast such an impressive resume.

    But Hamilton is motivated by capturing the eighth title he believes he was robbed of in Abu Dhabi in 2021. And the 39-year-old no longer thinks he can achieve the record-breaking feat with Mercedes. As Russell would say, he’s lost the faith.

    Can Hamilton be blamed? He has not tasted victory for two years. Mercedes did not win one of the 22 rounds last season. He heads into the new campaign as a 16/1 underdog to win the championship.

    This year is being called Hamilton’s last dance with Mercedes. But do not expect it to be a samba.

    Mercedes will remain at the sharp end of the grid this season. They have ditched the concept that has failed them so miserably for the past two years and introduced a new design philosophy – one that both Hamilton and Russell said is more predictable and easier to drive.

    But will it possess the speed to knock Red Bull and Max Verstappen off their perch?

    F1 works in cycles and, although Mercedes carried Hamilton to six championships in seven glorious years, this period in time belongs to the team from Milton Keynes, despite the on-going controversy surrounding its team principal Christian Horner and allegations of inappropriate behaviour made against him by a female colleague.

    Horner continues to deny the claims and a resolution is expected before Saturday’s curtain raiser.

    Red Bull swept all before them in 2023, winning every race bar one, with Verstappen taking 19 victories as he waltzed to a hat-trick of titles.

    Such was their superiority, Red Bull and their genius designer Adrian Newey could afford to start work on this year’s challenger long before the others.

    And the finished product, unveiled in all its glory at last week’s test, sent shivers down the spines of their competitors. The fear, for those not in a Red Bull cockpit, is that Newey’s latest masterpiece is an improvement on its brilliant predecessor.

    Given the sport’s rule book is largely unchanged and the budget cap means rival teams can no longer break the bank to discover a winning solution, Verstappen heads into this mammoth 24-round campaign as the favourite to become only the sixth driver in history with four world titles to his name.

    Alarmingly for the neutrals, Damon Hill, the 1996 world champion, has predicted this season will be “one long victory lap” for Verstappen and his all-conquering team – and that’s before a wheel has been turned in anger.

    But all is not lost – and that is when we return to Hamilton.

    While Verstappen could prove an unstoppable force on track, Hamilton’s agonisingly long goodbye with Mercedes – one that is set to stretch nine months and six days – will provide a fascinating subplot.

  • Verstappen favourite and Hamilton’s Mercedes swansong – 2024 F1 talking points Verstappen favourite and Hamilton’s Mercedes swansong – 2024 F1 talking points

    The new Formula One season begins in Bahrain on Saturday with Max Verstappen bidding to win a fourth consecutive world championship.

    Here, the PA news agency looks at the key questions heading into the 2024 campaign.

    Who is the favourite to win the title?

    Red Bull’s preparations for the new season have been overshadowed by allegations facing team principal Christian Horner. Horner, who is fighting to save his career following a claim of “inappropriate behaviour” by a female colleague, insists it is business as usual at Red Bull. Off-track it has been anything but for the team which has dominated the sport for the past two seasons. But on-track it has been precisely that.

    Verstappen — in an upgrade of the machine which carried him to 19 victories from 22 rounds last year — set a blistering pace on the opening day of last week’s test, finishing 1.1 seconds quicker than anybody else.

    Damon Hill, the 1996 world champion, summed up the ominous feeling in the paddock. Writing about Verstappen on ‘X’ he said: “He’s gloating. He’s taunting us. He knows. This year is going to be one long victory lap. You cannot begrudge anyone their success. All we can do is watch and admire.”

    So, can anyone challenge Verstappen and Red Bull?

    Ferrari ended last year with five pole positions from the final nine races and Carlos Sainz secured the only non-Red Bull win of the season in Singapore. The Italian team have worked hard over the winter on translating their one-lap pace into race conditions, where they tended to struggle in 2023.

    They will take solace from a trouble-free test and their pace appeared relatively encouraging, too. Sainz topped the time charts on the second day, while Leclerc ended the final day quickest – albeit on speedier rubber than Verstappen.

    An upbeat Leclerc said: “We are in a much better place and it is an easier car to drive. The feeling was good. We have been consistent straight away and this will help us in the race.”

    And what about Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes?

    Hamilton stunned the sporting world by choosing to quit Mercedes and join Ferrari in 2025. The news broke earlier this month and is likely to be difficult for those at Mercedes to digest. Hamilton took the decision – one he described as the hardest of his life – after two winless years with the Silver Arrows.

    Mercedes are armed with a new design philosophy for the new campaign but – although both Hamilton and team-mate George Russell spoke of an improved, more reliable machine – there was little to suggest from testing that they have closed the gap to Red Bull.

    Mercedes finished ahead of Ferrari in last year’s constructors’ championship but do not be surprised if the Scuderia start the new season ahead of them.

    What about the other teams?

    McLaren came alive in the second half of 2023, with Lando Norris scoring seven podiums. But the British team looked short of last year’s form in Bahrain last week – although it is a track which has not always suited them in recent seasons.

    Aston Martin finished fifth in the constructors’ championship, with Fernando Alonso, now 42, leading their charge for a second season. Alpine are set to head the midfield, with Williams, the newly-rebranded RB and Sauber teams (nee AlphaTauri and Alfa Romeo) and Haas likely to follow.

    Have there been any driver changes?

    No. This season’s line-up is the same as the previous year – the first time that’s ever happened. But with Hamilton already announcing his move to Ferrari for 2025 and 13 of the 20 drivers out of contract at the end of the season – next year’s grid is sure to have a whole different feel about it.

    What else happened during the winter break?

    Aside from Hamilton’s blockbuster transfer, his soon-to-be Ferrari team-mate Charles Leclerc penned a new deal which is expected to keep the 26-year-old Monegasque dressed in red until 2029. Lando Norris also extended his stay with McLaren until at least the end of 2026.

    Andretti’s move to become the 11th team on the grid was blocked by F1 bosses. The British Grand Prix will remain on the calendar for another decade after Silverstone agreed a new long-term deal with F1’s American owners’ Liberty Media.

    How does the calendar look?

    There will be a record-breaking 24 races – the longest season in history – starting in Bahrain on March 2 and ending in Abu Dhabi nine months and six days later.

    The Chinese Grand Prix returns after five years away, while the round in Japan moves from its traditional October slot to April. The roster features six sprint races in China, Miami, Austria, Austin, Qatar and Brazil. The format has been tinkered with, too. Qualifying for the sprint will now take place on Friday, with the grid for Sunday’s main event decided on Saturday, following the shortened race.

    What else do I need to know?

    The opening two races will both take place on a Saturday. The Muslim holy period of Ramadan starts on March 10. As such, the second round in Saudi Arabia has been brought forward by a day. FIA rules stipulate there must one week between races, meaning the Bahrain GP will also be 24 hours earlier than usual.

  • Lewis Hamilton: I am writing my story and it was time to start a new chapter Lewis Hamilton: I am writing my story and it was time to start a new chapter

    Lewis Hamilton said he chose to turn his back on Mercedes and join rivals Ferrari to write “a new chapter” in his record-breaking career.

    The seven-time world champion was speaking for the first time at length since his shock blockbuster move to the Italian giants in 2025 was confirmed earlier this month.

    Hamilton’s soon-to-be Ferrari team led the way on the concluding day of this week’s test in Bahrain, with Charles Leclerc seeing off Mercedes’ George Russell by just 0.046 seconds.

    But it is Max Verstappen’s Red Bull team who head into next Saturday’s curtain raiser, also in the Gulf kingdom, as the favourites, despite the ongoing investigation into their embattled team principal Christian Horner. Horner continues to deny the claims against him.

    Hamilton, who joined Mercedes from McLaren in 2013, signed a two-year contract extension with the Silver Arrows only last August.

    But over the winter he elected to terminate his £100million deal 12 months early to make the switch.

    “Obviously in the summer we signed and at that time I saw my future with Mercedes,” Hamilton explained. “But an opportunity came up in the new year and I decided to take it.

    “I feel like it was the hardest decision I have ever had to make. I have had a relationship with Mercedes since I was 13. They have supported me and we have had an incredible journey together and created history within the sport. It is something I take a lot of pride in.

    “But ultimately I am writing my story and I felt like it was time to start a new chapter.”

    Mercedes have carried Hamilton to six of his record-equalling seven titles.

    But last year marked a second straight season without a victory for the British driver – a losing streak which now stands at 45 races – and Mercedes’ first winless campaign in a dozen years.

    Ferrari have not won a drivers’ championship since Kimi Raikkonen triumphed for them in 2007.

    And two decades will have passed since Michael Schumacher took his fifth consecutive title for the team in 2004 when Hamilton links up with Ferrari at the start of next year.

    “All of us sit in our garages and you see the screen pop up, you see a driver in the red cockpit and you wonder what it will be like to be surrounded by the red,” added Hamilton.

    “You go to the Italian Grand Prix and you see the sea of red of Ferrari fans and you can only stand in awe of that.

    “It is a team that has not had huge success since Michael’s days and I see it as a huge challenge.

    “As a kid I used to to play the Grand Prix 2 computer game as Michael in that (Ferrari) car. It is definitely a dream and I am really excited about it.”

    Hamilton said the biggest transfer in F1 history would not have happened if Fred Vasseur – the Frenchman who played a prominent role in his formative career – had not been appointed as Ferrari team principal last year.

    Hamilton continued: “I have got a great relationship with Fred. I raced for him in Formula Three and we had amazing success in Formula Three and GP2 and that is where the foundation of our relationship started.

    “We always remained in touch. I thought he was going to be an amazing team manager at some stage and progress to Formula One. It was really cool to see him at Alfa Romeo and when he got the job at Ferrari I was just so happy for him. The stars aligned and it would not have happened without him.”

    As for learning the lingo, the Stevenage-born racer, added: “In all these years I have not managed to learn other languages, but I will definitely try. I do remember when I was younger and karting in Italy I was able to pick up a few lines. Hopefully that will come back to me.”

    Ferrari might have finished on top on Friday, but the consensus in the paddock is that Red Bull have significantly improved the machine which won all bar one of the 22 rounds last year.

    “Our car is more enjoyable to drive and it is an improvement,” said Hamilton. “But we still have some time to find. Red Bull are out in the distance.”

    Ominously, Verstappen, bidding to win his fourth straight title, said: “For sure, the car is better than it was last year.”

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