Lewis Hamilton is trying to “put a brave face on” and “mask his frustrations” about Mercedes’ disappointing start to the 2023 F1 season, it has been claimed.
Mercedes have endured a torrid start to the season for a second year in a row and looked to be the fourth-fastest team at the Bahrain Grand Prix two weeks ago as Hamilton trailed Max Verstappen’s dominant Red Bull by over 50 seconds.
After lagging almost a full second behind Verstappen during Friday practice for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Hamilton – who announced his split from long-time physio Angela Cullen – conceded that Mercedes’ W14 is no better than its troubled predecessor.
Team principal Toto Wolff admitted in Bahrain that Mercedes had made a mistake in continuing to pursue their flawed design concept, and accepted his side have “got it wrong” on Friday.
Assessing Hamilton’s latest comments, Sky Sports F1 presenter Simon Lazenby said: “He’s trying to put a brave face on it. He’s trying to mask his frustrations but it’s clear when he speaks.”
Ex-F1 driver and pundit Karun Chandhok added: “They thought ‘if we fix the bouncing we will unlock the potential’.
“The body language is different this year. They’re not talking about one particular issue this year. It’s more of an overall lack of performance.”
Meanwhile, 1996 world champion Damon Hill said: “They are scratching their heads. They don’t know what to suggest.
“It’s not that they don’t know what to do. There is only so much that they can do.”
Chandhok continued: “George [Russell] said they went aggressive last year. Then this year it is conservative. They don’t have the performance that they hoped. There is head scratching and the drivers have spoken about it.
“The big thing is, if I was Mercedes, ‘what do we do for 2024?’
“Because, in the budget cap era, with all the restrictions, it will be very hard to dial this back for this year.
“They cannot afford to start next year on the backfoot. Whatever they do this year, this have to hit next year running.”
What about Hamilton’s future?
Wolff stressed he was “absolutely confident” that Hamilton, whose current contract expires at the end of the year, would commit to signing a new deal at Mercedes.
But the Austrian also made the startling admission that the 38-year-old Briton would need to consider his options elsewhere in order to win a record eighth world title if Mercedes cannot deliver a competitive car in the next year or two.
Reacting to Wolff’s headline-grabbing remarks, Hill commented: “That’s not a pressure statement. He expects to come to an agreement for next year with Lewis.
“Where else do you go? You don’t want to go somewhere that’s not as good. So there’s only one team, and that’s Red Bull.”
Lazenby replied: “It was almost an admission, an acceptance, that they won’t keep him if they stay at this level of performance.”
Chandhok suspects Wolff and Hamilton are trying to apply pressure to Mercedes’ design team.
“They are ramping up the pressure on the design team,” he said. “Divide the team up – there is a team of engineers and designers who design the car – it’s on those people [who are pressurised]. It’s not the mechanics or drivers who are doing a brilliant job with the tools they are given.
“This shows Toto’s racing brain. He gets that drivers are in it for themselves first. Lewis, as an individual athlete, wants to be world champion every year.
“Toto is a realist. He recognises that if an athlete can’t achieve it with his team, he’ll look elsewhere. It was pragmatic from Toto.”
On Hamilton, Hill added: “He is driven by the performance of the team.
“He wants to race, he wants a competitive car, Mercedes can provide that but they need a new paradigm. So what will happen next?”
Chandhok concluded: “He wants an eighth championship. He has to be in the right car to do that.”
Keyword: Sky Sports F1 pundits say Lewis Hamilton is ‘trying to mask frustrations’ with Mercedes ‘scratching their heads’