Max Verstappen’s Red Bull Racing are “one second” ahead of Mercedes in Bahrain causing huge shock for Hamilton who complains that “the gap is huge” despite the team already knowing that Mercedes would not be the favourites for the Formula 1 season opener in Bahrain, but the bitter reality hit them during Friday’s practice in Sakhir.
“We found out we were quite a way off,” Lewis Hamilton lamented after finishing eighth. “We knew that a little bit from the test, but the gap is massive.” – Hamilton appears to be in shock from the news.
Hamilton was eighth, 0.636 seconds off the pace, with team-mate George Russell almost a second slower in 13th. The gap to Red Bull was just under half a second on one lap, but Hamilton reckons the Bulls will be much stronger again in the long run.
“It looks like they’re a second a lap quicker on the long run,” he frets, stressing that he didn’t feel comfortable on either the long run or the short run. “So we still have work to do.”
Mercedes is far from being able to close the gap to Red Bull in the short term, he says:
“I’ve already set the car up in the best possible way. We can still do a few tweaks here and there, but then we’ll gain a few thousandths. It’s not going to close the one second gap.”
Teammate George Russell doesn’t see things quite so black yet; although Mercedes still need to find more downforce with the W14, “it’s also only day four with the new car,” he says with a cool head.
“We just need to make sure we have it in the right window where we reach its full potential. I’m sure we’re not there yet.”
Mercedes fourth at most?
Red Bull will probably not be within reach this weekend, so what about the other competition? Aston Martin was strong, but Ferrari in particular was not even two tenths of a second faster on Friday.
“I think on the long run we were close to Ferrari,” says Hamilton. The problem with this is that it was actually assumed that the Scuderia would be the second strongest team, but on Friday Aston Martin was suddenly the clear number 2 – or more.
Mercedes is therefore only third or fourth. “So we’re basically where we were last year, or even a bit behind,” the seven-time world champion lamented, saying the situation was difficult for everyone in the team.
“It’s not what we deserve…”
“It’s really not the place anyone wants to be in the team and certainly not the place anyone deserves to be,” the British driver said. “Everyone continues to work so hard and really so bravely and prudently on the process. But we’re just on the wrong track.”
“So we have to keep pushing and find a way to get us on the right track. But at the moment we’re still a long way from the guys ahead of us.”
Similar increase to 2022?
So the situation is similar to last year, when Mercedes had major problems, especially at the start of the season. However, the racing team was able to improve a lot during the course of the season and even took a victory in Brazil.
“You have to be hopeful,” says Hamilton when asked about the parallel, but at the same time he is under no illusions:
“We made good progress last year, but the gap wasn’t as big as it is now. Do I think we can close the gap at some point? Yes. But with the current concept, it will be quite difficult.”
Mercedes, however, would like to introduce a car with a new concept as the season progresses. The question is whether the world championship train will have sailed by then.
Writing was on the wall for Mercedes in testing
Unfortunately, the team had experienced issues throughout the winter starting with a mostly unreported suspension failure and tub flex problems at Silverstone shakedown even before the three day testing began.
The fixes, at least for this iteration of the W14 car, meant an increase in weight, bringing up the mass to something closer to the 2022 car.
This of course will have a disastrous knock-on effect for Lewis Hamilton and George Russell.