Hamilton hopes punctured by Australian Grand Prix practice as Mercedes frustration grows

By Sports Desk April 08, 2022

Lewis Hamilton conceded that any optimism for the Australian Grand Prix had been quashed after Ferrari again dominated Mercedes in practice in Melbourne.

Seven-time world champion Hamilton was fortunate to edge onto the podium in Bahrain's season opener, with Mercedes' problems with their new W13 design well-documented.

More problems followed for the 37-year-old and his team in Saudi Arabia, where Hamilton fell to his first performance-related Q1 elimination since 2009 and Mercedes failed to make the top five on the grid for the first time since the 2013 Italian Grand Prix.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff warned not to expect any "magic fix" for their new W13 car 'porpoising' – bouncing at high speed – and not racing at the optimum height, and the practice sessions at Albert Park have left much to ponder.

Hamilton and team-mate George Russell finished well behind a Ferrari one-two of Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc in the first practice, and things did not improve in the second session when Russell was 11th quickest and Hamilton a lowly 13th.

Both Mercedes drivers were again well behind Leclerc, and Hamilton, who finished more than one and a half seconds off the pace, accepted Sunday will be a struggle.

"I feel good, I feel okay. It was just a difficult session," he told Sky Sports. "You go in very optimistic, you make changes, and it doesn't seem to be wanting to improve.

"We made some changes going into FP2; FP1 was better, and FP2 ended up being a bit harder, so it's tricky. I don't think it'll be tricky to find our way back, there's just not a lot we can do. This is the way it is, so we just have to drive with it.

"We're trying to push, trying to catch, and even when you do a decent lap, it's 1.2s down."

Russell, who is fourth in the drivers' championship despite not making the podium in his opening two races, echoed Hamilton's frustrations.

"We're not in the position that we want," Russell said. "There's quite a few midfield cars ahead of us, and we're quite a long way off the pace. We need to work hard tonight and understand the limitations [of the car].

Asked if he was still enjoying driving, Russell added: "Driving is always cool, [but] you enjoy it more when you're on top of the timesheet!

"When you think you've done a good lap and then you look at the timesheet and see that you're down in P11, it's not where we want to be as a team. It's all about results."

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    Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto insists there is nothing to fix internally with Charles Leclerc, after he dropped from first to fourth while team-mate Carlos Sainz won Sunday's British Grand Prix.

    At the race's conclusion, Binotto briefly addressed a visibly disappointed Leclerc in parc ferme, whose pace dropped off on degrading hard tyres following a safety car with 14 laps remaining.

    Leading the race at that point, Leclerc noted over the radio that it would be "hard" to keep the chasing pack on soft tyres behind him, but Ferrari opted to keep him out while bringing Sainz in for a set of soft tyres.

    Asked about the exchange, Binotto sought to clarify the exchange was more to congratulate Leclerc on his drive and overall pace given the circumstances.

    "There is nothing to sort out internally," he told Sky Sports. "I think it was simply to tell him 'I understand your disappointment but you did a fantastic race today.' Fighting at the start, fighting later on when he was on the hards and the others were on softs.

    "I think the way he was driving there to take positions was amazing, so being happy is difficult, but staying calm and being positive is important.

    "For us it was clear not stopping Charles, keeping track position and stopping Carlos because he was the only one who could have stopped. We were hoping for more tyre degradation on the softs, and that didn't happen."

    Despite Leclerc besting him for pace in the earlier stages of the race as Red Bull's Max Verstappen surrendered the lead, Sainz capitalised with his soft tyres after the restart for his maiden race win in Formula One.

    After taking pole position in similarly volatile circumstances on Saturday at Silverstone, Binotto complimented the 27-year-old for his consistency and ability to be in position to take advantage.

    "I think that's the strength of Carlos, no?" he said. "Always trying to be there and get the opportunity. Yesterday, in qualifying maybe the other two made small mistakes but he did a consistent lap and made the pole.

    "That's his strength, to be consistent to the end, to the chequered flag and get the opportunity when the opportunity is coming. For him, I'm really very happy because it's his first victory.

    "I think, one, that was important for him and with Ferrari it's even more important. So, I'm very pleased and I think he deserved it."

  • Verstappen: I felt like the car was falling apart Verstappen: I felt like the car was falling apart

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    Verstappen took the lead from pole sitter Carlos Sainz after the Ferrari driver made an unforced error and went wide, but his advantage lasted just a few laps after then suffering structural damage.

    The defending champion ran over a piece of debris and believed he had suffered a puncture, but a pit stop did not solve the problem and it was later revealed he had sustained significant structural damage to the floor of his Red Bull.

    That left Verstappen unable to fight his way up the order and instead had to see off pressure from Haas driver Mick Schumacher, who secured a first points finish in F1, and the Dutch ace says the incident "destroyed" the side of his car.

    "I'd just gone into the lead because of Carlos' 'moment' and then a few corners later, there was a piece of debris on the racing line," he told Sky Sports.

     

    "As soon as I arrived there [on the line], I could not drastically turn left or right, so I tried to hit it head on. Normally, it would just get pushed away, but this time it went in my floor and destroyed the whole left-hand side of my floor.

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    "I think overall to finish seventh with that car, it was still a good result. It's better than zero points that's for sure," he added.

  • Nissany punished as Hauger car lands on him in shocking Silverstone crash Nissany punished as Hauger car lands on him in shocking Silverstone crash

    Formula Two chiefs found Israeli driver Roy Nissany "wholly responsible" for the horror crash that saw a rival driver land on top of his car in Sunday's British Grand Prix.

    Nissany, a 27-year-old who races for DAMS and is a member of the Williams driver academy, escaped largely unscathed from the dramatic incident thanks to the Halo driver protection device on his car.

    Moments after making an error and running wide at Silverstone's Stowe corner, Nissany's DAMS made contact with the Prema Racing car of 19-year-old Norwegian Dennis Hauger, who was knocked off the track, before Nissany shuffled back into the pack.

    His driving was heavily criticised by race bosses, and it almost had disastrous consequences when Nissany turned the Vale sharp corner that followed, as Hauger's out-of-control car came bounding over a kerb and landed on top of the DAMS that had just knocked the teenager off course.

    Fortunately for all concerned, there was no tragic outcome.

    Nissany wrote on Twitter: "Thank you all so much for the concern. I'm ok, it’s part of racing and luckily the halo was there for me. We'll recover and come back stronger for Austria."

    Yet Formula Two race stewards imposed a punishment that will take effect in next week's race at Spielberg, handing Nissany a five-place grid penalty and saying he had "fully accepted blame".

    In a statement, they said: "Having considered the matter extensively, the stewards determined that car 16 [Nissany's DAMS] left the track at turn 15 after making an error.

    "The driver rejoined the course at the exit of the corner and rather than focusing on a safe merge into traffic, made an unpredictable and unsafe move to defend his position that initiated the contact with car 1 (Hauger's Prema). Car 16 was wholly responsible for the collision and fully accepted blame for the incident."

    The stewards' statement confirmed the five-place grid penalty for next week in Austria.

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