Lewis Hamilton tore into his team for their failures following a poor first weekend of the 2023 Formula One season. The Mercedes pair qualified 6th and 7th for the Bahrain GP and despite Charles Leclerc failing to finish the race, Hamilton could only manage a P5 with his team mate two places further back.
Whilst Mercedes faired a little better second time out in Jeddah with a P4 and P5 race finish, the best the Mercedes W14 car could have hoped for without the safety car would have been to finish over a minute behind the eventual race winner.
Lewis Hamilton apparently chastened
Lewis Hamilton was widely reported to have been chastened by the team for his words in Bahrain at a big pow-wow in Milton Keynes following the opening weekend of the season.
There Lewis was outspoken as he claimed the team had ignored his input during 2022 and his comments appeared to call for heads to roll in Bradley.
“Last year, I told them the issues that are with the car,” said Hamilton. “Like, I’ve driven so many cars in my life, so I know what a car needs, I know what a car doesn’t need.
“And I think it’s really about accountability, it’s about owning up and saying ‘yeah, you know what, we didn’t listen to you, it’s not where it needs to be and we’ve got to work’.”
Toto Wolff exasperated outburst
Hamilton was emboldened by Toto Wolff’s earlier exasperated outburst when he declared after Bahrain qualifying, “I don’t think this package is going to be competitive eventually.”
“We got it wrong last year, we thought we could fix it by sticking to this concept of car and it didn’t work out,” explained the Mercedes boss.”
Then during the subsequent Saudi Arabia drivers’ press conference an apparently contrite Lewis Hamilton rowed back on his earlier criticism of certain Mercedes’ team members.
“In hindsight, I think looking back, it wasn’t necessarily the best choice of words,” Lewis reflected.
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“But no, of course, there are times where you’re not in agreement with certain team members, but what’s important is that we continue to communicate, we continue to pull together.”
Yet Hamilton later revealed he was not in any way apologetic for his criticism of the team. In fact he appeared to dismiss any notion he had ever apologised to the team over his Bahrain comments.
“I’m one of those people that always likes to be right, but I’m not always right, but in this scenario I was right,” Hamilton said.
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Lewis then in some convoluted way attempts to portray his initial criticism as positive.
“So it was good, it was like, ‘I told you’,” he explained.
“It’s a team collaboration. At the end of the day I’m the driver not the designer, but I’m the gateway to the car’s performance, so we’re just working on continuously trusting each other in what we try to give back.
“They do listen to me, I mean look at the success we’ve had over time, so we listen to each other.
Hamilton acknowledges internal “disputes”
“We’ve had our disagreements and that’s inevitable in relationships.
“What’s important is just owning up to it – ‘ok, I was wrong’ or ‘you were wrong’ or whatever it is, and then just huddle up, we’re a team, so how can we fix it? What are we going to do? How much energy are you going to put into it?”
Yet the dynamics are changing at Mercedes in Brackley. They’ve experienced something like a 25% turnover of staff over the past two seasons and not everybody is on board with Hamilton’s mode of communication.
Let’s keep this energy up, Team. 👏👏 pic.twitter.com/D2s9tSw4zs
— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) March 21, 2023
Hamilton not yet delivering in the car
Further, Lewis is not yet extracting the maximum from the current car as George Russell has out qualified him 2-0 so far this season.
The lack of a signed contract to extend Hamilton’s stay at Mercedes is an unresolved issue which Toto and Lewis can only deflect as normative for so long.
Serious questions are being asked about whether Mercedes are now too far behind their main rivals to mount a serious championship assault before 2026 when the next big change in the F1 regulations occurs.
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Lewis Hamilton’s options thin on the ground
Hamilton by then will be 41 years of age and should Mercedes miss the mark again, will they ever be able to offer Hamilton another title winning car?
Ferrari can testify to a famine of success following an era of sheer dominance, so nothing is guaranteed for Lewis should he stay with the Brackley based team.
Toto Wolff alluded to this in Jeddah when asked again about the possibility of Lewis not signing a new Mercedes contract.
”If we cannot demonstrate we are able to give him the car in the next couple of years, he needs to look everywhere.”
If no one can beat Red Bull, why leave Mercedes?
The likes of Jenson Button and Damon Hill have already suggested Lewis may be hedging his bets before signing a new contract. They claim Hamilton is waiting to see if there’s any hope his team can show they are climbing back to the front of the grid before putting pen to paper for the rest of his F1 career.
Of course if this is true, Lewis must also be considering his options which are simple.
Retire or find another team more capable than Mercedes of beating Red Bull Racing to the championships.
Now that is a different proposition to finding a team that can beat Mercedes. Both Aston Martin and Ferrari look capable of doing that over this season.
But if they can’t ultimately claim the top spot in F1, is there much point in Lewis leaving the team where he has so much history and leverage?
The answer to that question lies in attitude. Fernando Alonso is delighted with picking up two podiums for Aston Martin this season. Would Lewis Hamilton feel the same?
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Special delivery, @AstonMartinF1. 🙏 pic.twitter.com/3uI3HlsMtq
— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) March 22, 2023