Lewis Hamilton has conceded Mercedes have failed to improve their car over the opening five races of the season after he finished sixth at the Miami Grand Prix. The seven-time world champion admitted they were not going forwards with a car that his team principal, Toto Wolff, acknowledged remains off the pace and is a handful to drive and understand, as they consider dropping the design concept next year.
Max Verstappen won the race for Red Bull, having passed Charles Leclerc for the lead on lap nine and then delivering a controlled and dominating drive to the flag. It was a consummate display from the Dutchman with Ferrari simply unable to match their pace. In so doing he closed to 19 points behind Leclerc in the championship.
Mercedes had brought their first major upgrades of the season to Miami and were hopeful at least of making the incremental steps they required in order to extract more from their car, which is still suffering from the violent porpoising on the straights that has prevented them from unlocking its potential after five races. Hamilton did enjoy an improved qualifying performance – taking sixth – and he and teammate George Russell finished sixth and fifth respectively in the race.
However they remain up to almost a second a lap off the leaders and the hoped for improvement had not been discovered in Miami.
“Unfortunately we are at the same speed as we were in the first race,” said Hamilton. “We haven’t improved in these five races but I am hopeful, we have to keep trying and keep working hard.”
The British driver, used to vying at the front for wins and the title, has been in an altogether different battle this season. At very best his car is third fastest but Hamilton has often found himself in a midfield battle the likes of which he has rarely had to endure across his entire career. A challenge he is taking on the chin as a long season of a further 18 races lies ahead.
“It’s still racing, just a different perspective, a different point of view,” he said. “You want to try and go forward but it is difficult when you are not going forwards. It is what it is but it’s an experience for sure.”
Mercedes believe this year’s car still has the potential to come good and that, should they solve their issues, it could yet be very quick although Hamilton has already written off his title chances. In Miami their task was once more written large with its unpredictable nature exposed. Russell had been quickest in second practice but then said he felt no confidence in the same car during qualifying, managing only 12th place. Wolff admitted that even after five races mastering the car remained a dark art and one that he described in a clearly frustrated fashion.
“There is potential in the car and she is fast but we just don’t understand how to unlock the potential.” he said. “It is a car that is super difficult to drive, dipping in and out of the performance window – more out than in – and dissecting the data with a scalpel is a painful process.
“The data sometimes doesn’t show what the drivers tell us and suddenly they have their hands full with a car that is not nice, comfortable or predictable to drive.”
With the new regulations introduced this year a variety of different concepts across the grid were introduced by the teams and some such as leaders Ferrari and Red Bull have successfully solved the porpoising problem with their models. With decisions on what design route to go down on next year’s cars to be made in the near future Mercedes are approaching a crunch time for how they choose to move forward in 2023. In Miami Wolff singled out the next round at Barcelona as a key moment .
“We have stayed committed to the current concept, we are faithful to the current concept, we are not looking at the lady next door to see if we like it more,” he said. “Before we make a decision on switching to another concept we need to understand where this one went wrong. What is the good and what is the bad. I would be asking for an answer after Barcelona and then we have to look at ourselves in the mirror and ask: ‘Did we get it wrong or not?’”