Bahrain Grand Prix: Lewis Hamilton says Mercedes on ‘wrong track’ and ‘a long way off’ rivals

Formula 1
Lewis Hamilton on track in Bahrain

Lewis Hamilton says that Mercedes are “on the wrong track” with their new car at the start of the 2023 season.

The seven-time world champion was eighth in Friday practice, 0.636 seconds slower than the pace-setting Aston Martin of Fernando Alonso.

Hamilton said: “We found out we are a long way off. We kind of knew that a little bit in the test but it is a big gap.

“I am trying everything I can out there but it is what it is.”

Hamilton implied that he felt Mercedes had taken the wrong design direction with their car for this season.

“It is difficult for everyone and not where everyone in the team wants to be and not where they deserve to be,” he said.

“Everyone continues to work so hard and is so courageous and thoughtful but we are just on the wrong track. We have to graft away and try to get ourselves on the right track.”

Mercedes have chosen this year to stick with their so-called ‘zero-sidepod’ design philosophy, with very narrow bodywork beside the driver.

This makes them alone on the grid – most teams have chosen to follow Red Bull’s very different approach to engineering the airflow around the car between the wheels, which features larger sidepods with a pronounced undercut to channel the air to the rear of the car.

Aston Martin have switched to a Red Bull-style approach this season and appear to have made a leap in competitiveness to be close to the front of the field.

Last year, Mercedes insisted that their sidepod design was not the reason for their struggles for competitiveness.

On Friday in Bahrain, their technical director Mike Elliott said the team would wait to see where they were after qualifying and the race in Bahrain before making a definitive conclusion as to how competitive they were and what to do about closing the gap to the front.

Hamilton said: “I think I got the car to the best place I can get it set-up-wise. I will continue to tweak, but it will be small bits here and there, which is milliseconds, not closing a gap of a second.

“We have to find if there is any way we can find performance overnight.

“I thought the Ferraris were second but on the long run we are quite close to Ferrari. It looks like the Aston is second and we are between third or fourth.

“We are kind of where we were last year, if not a little bit further behind.”

Team principal Toto Wolff has already said that Mercedes have a design change to the side pods coming this season, but the team have not said how extensive it will be or when it will be on the car.

Hamilton added: “I have to be hopeful. There was good progress through last year but the gap wasn’t as big as it is now.

“Do I believe we can close the gap at some stage? Yes, but I think it’s quite hard with the concept we have.”

George Russell sits in the cockpit of his Mercedes in Bahrain

Team-mate George Russell, who was 13th fastest and 0.975secs off the pace, said he thought that Mercedes might still not have optimised the car in its current form.

“There are few teams looking very strong,” Russell said. “Obviously Aston Martin are the biggest surprise. They have clearly done a very good job over winter.

“We just have to look at our data – we made some big changes, and [we need to] see if it has worked as it was supposed to.

“The car is in a very different window [than at the pre-season test]. It feels a little bit better but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s faster.

“We want to be higher up the timesheets than we are. That’s no secret.

“It is only our fourth day with the car and we just have to make sure we have it in the window where we are reaching its full potential and right now I am pretty sure we have not got it there.”

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