Lewis Hamilton determined to return Mercedes to the top before joining Ferrari

By Sports Desk February 14, 2024

Lewis Hamilton is determined to fire Mercedes back to former glories as he gears up for his season swansong before quitting for Ferrari.

Hamilton stunned the sporting world by ditching Mercedes – the constructor which has carried him to six of his record-equalling seven world championships – in favour of a move to their rivals next year.

On Wednesday, the 39-year-old made his first public appearance since news of his shock transfer broke.

Standing alongside team principal Toto Wolff, Hamilton faced just three questions from Mercedes’ in-house moderator in a nine-minute, no-frills and perhaps awkward – given the rawness of the British driver’s decision – car launch.

“The focus through the whole of winter training is getting the team back to where we once were,” said Hamilton.

“We have had these difficult couple of years which have been really grounding for us. It has helped us regroup and really look at things.

“(The last few weeks) have obviously been emotional and it is very surreal to be here.”

Hamilton, who joined Mercedes from McLaren in 2013, signed a two-year contract extension only last August. But over the winter he elected to terminate his £100million deal 12 months early.

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

They finished an eye-watering 413 points behind Red Bull while Hamilton, third in the individual standings, was 341 points adrift of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen as the Dutchman secured a hat-trick of world crowns.

Wolff metaphorically conceded at the final round in Abu Dhabi that Mercedes will have to scale Mount Everest to topple Verstappen.

But on Wednesday, Wolff said: “This is a complete relaunch of a car. It is very different, not only aerodynamically but underneath the car too.

“There have been so many mechanical changes which we hope will translate into more performance, more predictability and a car the drivers can really push.

“The most important thing is to look inward and what is it that we got wrong? We found some clues, we tried to eliminate as many variables as we could and the buzz in the company is something I have not seen for so many years.

“We know it is a big mountain to climb because if a team is so far ahead like Red Bull were last year then it is not easy.

“But we have a superb driver combination and hopefully a fast car. There are some good ingredients to be back at the front again.”

The Austrian, informed of Hamilton’s shock transfer only a fortnight ago, added: “It will be our last season with Lewis so we are keen on bringing a quick car.”

Hamilton and team-mate George Russell were given their first taste of their new car during a damp shakedown test at Silverstone.

On Thursday, the spotlight will be back on embattled Red Bull team principal Christian Horner as the world champions present their machine for the new campaign.

Horner is under investigation by the Formula One team’s parent company Red Bull GmBH following an accusation of “inappropriate behaviour” by a female colleague.

Last Friday, Horner was questioned by a lawyer for eight hours. He categorically denies the claim.

Horner remains in his role and he will speak to the media on Thursday at the team’s Milton Keynes HQ – although it is understood legalities around the process mean that questions relating to the internal investigation will be off-limits.

F1’s sole pre-season test gets under way in Bahrain on February 21, ahead of the opening race, also in the Gulf kingdom, on March 2.

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  • Christian Horner denies Formula One is ‘boring’ with Max Verstappen’s dominance Christian Horner denies Formula One is ‘boring’ with Max Verstappen’s dominance

    Christian Horner has knocked back criticism that Max Verstappen’s stranglehold on Formula One is “boring” by describing his star driver’s unstoppable form as a “golden moment”.

    Verstappen claimed his fourth win from the five rounds so far this season with a commanding drive at Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix to establish a 25-point championship lead.

    The Dutch driver has failed to triumph at only two of the last 23 races staged in the sport, and he is the overwhelming favourite to secure a fourth world crown in as many seasons.

    Speaking prior to Sunday’s race, Lando Norris, who finished runner-up to Verstappen in Shanghai, admitted that seeing the “same driver win without a fight is boring”, and a “turn-off” for fans.

    But addressing claims that Verstappen’s dominance is damaging the sport, Red Bull team principal Horner said: “You have to appreciate success. Max is a special talent and this is a golden moment for him.

    “As we have seen with every single driver in the past, it doesn’t last forever. It is about enjoying the moment and being in the moment and there are no guarantees we can give him a car like this for the next five years.

    “Max is just a metronome. The pace he showed last year, he has continued that through.

    “And since the last Chinese Grand Prix in 2019, he has won 50 per cent of all the races. He has won 21 out of the last 23 races. He is in fantastic form, at one with the car and the team and enjoying his racing.”

    Verstappen also won the first sprint round of the season in Shanghai.

    The dash to the chequered flag took place before qualifying for Sunday’s main event in a rejig this year.

    Verstappen, 26, has often criticised the format, and although he agreed the new schedule is better than in previous years, he urged F1 bosses not to increase the number of sprints – which is set at six this season.

    “The sprint format was more straightforward that it has been but let’s not overdo it,” said the triple world champion.

    “We are already doing 24 races in a season and six of these sprint events, too. I guess it sells better and the television audience numbers increase, but it also increases the pressure on the mechanics to ensure everything is tip-top.

    “So, we have to deal with it, but let’s not now think that we need 12 of these (sprints) because it will take its toll on people in the sport.”

  • Toto Wolff hopeful Lewis Hamilton’s morale will not plummet after bad start Toto Wolff hopeful Lewis Hamilton’s morale will not plummet after bad start

    Mercedes boss Toto Wolff is confident Lewis Hamilton’s morale will not plummet despite his continued worst start to a Formula One season.

    Hamilton fought back from his lowly 18th grid slot to finish ninth in Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix.

    But the British driver, in his final season with Mercedes before his blockbuster transfer to Ferrari, leaves Shanghai only ninth in the standings after failing to finish inside the top six at either of the opening five rounds.

    Indeed, Sunday’s result marked the third time he has crossed the line in ninth this year. Hamilton also trails team-mate George Russell 5-0 in qualifying.

    But Wolff said: “Lewis is a pro and he has behaved that way, trying to keep his morale up and the morale of the team up, even if the results have not come his way. I have no doubt this will last.”

    Hamilton has now gone 50 races and 868 long days without a victory and he was exposed to yet another sobering afternoon in his uncompetitive Mercedes.

    Following his worst qualifying result in seven years, Hamilton started on the quickest, but less-durable soft rubber, but just two laps into this 56-lap affair, his complaints began.

    “I am making no ground on this tyre,” he said after dropping from 18th to 19th.

    Hamilton made the first of his two pit-stops on lap nine and rejoined back in 19th, 53 seconds off Max Verstappen’s leading pace.

    “That was the worst tyre, man,” said the despondent 39-year-old.

    Hamilton was soon back on the intercom. “I can’t even catch him (Alpine’s Esteban Ocon), man,” he said. “This car is so slow.”

    Hamilton’s fortunes improved on lap 21 when he stopped for a second time, with the virtual safety car (VSC) deployed after Valtteri Bottas broke down.

    And as the marshals struggled to shift Bottas’ stricken Stake, the VSC was upgraded to a full safety car, promoting Hamilton up the order.

    He would be 12th at the restart, but he was still bemused by his unruly machine.

    “The car is just sliding around everywhere,” he said. “It just feels like something is broken. It is really bad.”

    Daniel Ricciardo suffered floor damage after Lance Stroll thumped into the back of his RB, elevating Hamilton into 10th before he swatted Haas’ Nico Hulkenberg aside.

    Hamilton was then up to eighth as Fernando Alonso made a maverick third stop for tyres. But the 42-year-old took advantage of his fresh rubber to blast back through the field, relegating Hamilton back a place with seven laps remaining.

    The seven-time champion took the chequered flag nearly one minute behind Verstappen.

    “This is the worst season so far, as I mentioned at the last race,” said Hamilton. “It definitely wasn’t better than expected because we expected to finish there today.

    “I have never had so much understeer in my life. I thought I damaged my car because there was debris on the track at one point, but it was just the way I set the car up.

    “We finished second in the sprint race yesterday and, with better decisions on setup today, we would have been where George finished. We have to keep fighting.”

  • Max Verstappen powers to dominant victory in Chinese Grand Prix Max Verstappen powers to dominant victory in Chinese Grand Prix

    Max Verstappen powered to another dominant win in Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix – as Lewis Hamilton complained his car was “slow” and “broken” after he finished ninth.

    Verstappen emerged unscathed from two safety car periods to secure his 38th win from the last 49 staged in Formula One on his unstoppable march towards a fourth straight championship.

    But for Hamilton, now 50 races and 868 long days without a victory, this marked another sobering afternoon in his uncompetitive Mercedes.

    McLaren’s Lando Norris delivered an impressive performance to finish second, one place ahead of Verstappen’s Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez, with Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz fourth and fifth for Ferrari.

    George Russell could manage only sixth for Mercedes as the grid’s once-dominant team endured another race to forget.

    F1 is back in Shanghai following a five-year absence, and it was a venue that Hamilton once ruled, winning a record six times here.

    But the sport has a new king now, with Verstappen securing his fourth win from the opening five rounds – his only downfall in Australia when his Red Bull engine expired. For Hamilton, hampered by starting only 18th, his worst-ever season continued.

    As Verstappen blasted away from his marks to convert his pole position into an all-too predictable early lead, Hamilton was evidently struggling for speed in his Mercedes.

    Hamilton started on the quickest, but less durable soft rubber, but just two laps into this 56-lap affair, his complaints began.

    “I am making no ground on this tyre,” he said after dropping from 18th to 19th. Hamilton made the first of his two pit-stops on lap nine, and re-joined back in 19th, 53 seconds behind Verstappen.

    “That was the worst tyre, man,” said the despondent 39-year-old after switching to the medium rubber.

    Up front and Fernando Alonso, who moved from third to second following a fine move around the outside of Perez at the opening bend, was starting to slip down the order.

    On lap five, Perez sailed past the evergreen Spaniard, before Norris swooped ahead at the penultimate corner two laps later.

    Back to Hamilton, and he was now 15th after making his way ahead of RB’s Yuki Tsunoda at the first bend. But his mood had not improved.

    “I can’t even catch him (Alpine’s Esteban Ocon), man,” he said. This car is so slow.”

    Speed has not been a problem for Verstappen since he denied Hamilton a record eighth crown at the 2021 decider in Abu Dhabi.

    Temporarily demoted to third by virtue of changing tyres earlier than his competitors, the Red Bull star breezed past Leclerc on lap 16 before re-taking the lead from Norris three laps later.

    Hamilton’s fortunes improved on lap 21 when he stopped for a second time with the VSC deployed after Valtteri Bottas broke down. And as the marshals struggled to shift Bottas’ stricken Stake, the VSC was upgraded to a full safety car, promoting Hamilton up the order. He would be 12th at the re-start, but he was still bemused by his machine.

    “The car is just sliding around everywhere,” he said. “It just feels like something is broken. It is really bad.”

    In came the safety car on lap 26, but it was back out moments later after Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll clumsily thudded into the back of Daniel Ricciardo, and Kevin Magnussen punted Yuki Tsuonda off.

    Ricciardo suffered floor damage, elevating Hamilton into 10th and a single-point paying position before he swatted Haas’ Nico Hulkenberg aside for ninth on lap 41.

    Hamilton was then up to eighth as Alonso made a maverick third stop for tyres. But the 43-year-old took advantage of his fresh rubber to blast back through the field, relegating Hamilton back to ninth with seven laps remaining. Alonso would cross the line in seventh.

    Verstappen took the chequered flag 13.7 sec clear of Norris to extend his championship lead to 25 points with Hamilton – almost one minute behind his one-time rival – still searching for a top-six finish this season.

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