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

By Sports Desk April 21, 2024

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.”

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