Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Bahrain International Circuit, 2024

Mercedes ‘further from Red Bull than we thought’ – Hamilton

Formula 1

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Lewis Hamilton admitted Mercedes are “further back to the Red Bull than we thought we were” after the opening race of the season in Bahrain.

Hamilton started ninth on the grid for the first race of the year and finished seventh, two places behind team mate George Russell.

With rivals Red Bull scoring a one-two and Russell in the leading Mercedes finishing 46 seconds behind winner Max Verstappen, Hamilton admits Mercedes thought they would be closer to the world champions this weekend.

“I think we probably feel a little bit of disappointment within the team,” Hamilton told Sky after the race. “I was definitely hoping we would be better this weekend than we were.

“It was a tough race. It’s very close with everybody. Degradation is, obviously, high with the car. There’s definitely plenty of areas in which we can improve. We’re obviously further back to the Red Bulls than we thought we were as well.”

Despite sacrificing his qualifying performance on Friday with a set-up that was supposedly more suited to the race, Hamilton failed to find the gains he was hoping for in the grand prix.

“I mean, the car’s reliable, but I think it was a struggle in the car today,” he admitted.

“I was giving everything, but there wasn’t a lot of performance there compared to some of the others ahead of us. I think if I qualified better, I naturally would have been a good couple of places ahead, because the last stint was good. So it was about discovery today. I found out a lot about the car and there’s a lot that we can improve on I’m sure the team will.”

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Both Hamilton and team mate Russell were asked to lift-and-coast during the race in order to try and manage power unit temperatures. Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff says that did not explain their performance deficit to their rivals.

“It’s a weird one, because the cooling cost us quite a lot,” Wolff said.

“The moment you need to lift-and-coast, the tyres are not in the right window anymore and then everything goes south. But that’s something we understand. But nevertheless, the pace was worse than we expected.”

While the Bahrain circuit is widely considered as having unconventional characteristics compared to other tracks in the early phase of the calendar, Wolff believes the team’s performance in Bahrain accurately reflects their standing.

“Given the issues, I think this is where we are,” he said. “Third-quickest team behind the Ferraris and the Red Bull – obviously galaxies away from Max. So we need to analyse.”

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Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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28 comments on “Mercedes ‘further from Red Bull than we thought’ – Hamilton”

  1. Lewis has found a new power… he is able to predict.

    I think if I qualified better, I naturally would have been a good couple of places ahead

    1. For several years now it seems Merc, primarily Lewis, have believed in trying to set the car up for the race. They seem not to realize that all teams do the same. however, they don’t compromise on anything, you basically get what you earn. I good starting place means you don’t have as much fighting. They should maybe focus on going as fast as possible no matter what, let the drivers sort out tire wear etc. Maybe with a little luck they can hold on to a second or third place start, and find out a few more thing about where there car is lacking.

      1. Is that true? I don’t think so. Every driver gambles and sometiems they choose to go towards quali trim because overtaking is hard. Lewis generally goes for race setup and it mostly pays off. Just look at Alonso… I have a feeling the car isn’t as bad as it was in the race today… that was probably down to his setup choice mostly.

        1. My thoughts. Hamilton took his poorer qualifying on the chin, this came after outdriving Russel of much of the practices.

          I have to wonder about that. Did the Mercedes promote Russell ahead of Hamilton, setting his car up to do worse than Russell and consequently leaving him with a poorer car to race with?

          As a result, the Ferraris both did better. Russell dropped 2 places and Hamilton against the odds made up 2 places. Mercedes is better than this, but they need their best driver leading the way.

          As Hamilton said, if he had qualified better he would very likely have finished the race better, but of course Mercedes want to build Russells confidence ahead of Hamilton move.

          If Mercedes finishes 3rd in the championship, or worst, they’ll only have themselves to blame. So far that gamble on Russell isn’t paying off.

          1. Did the Mercedes promote Russell ahead of Hamilton, setting his car up to do worse than Russell

            Of course it is possible. But I think it is immensely improbable. What would be the point?

          2. There was a temperature problem plus some seat-damage on Lewis’ car. Thats why the race performance suffered…

      2. He obviously didn’t think a 2 tenths gap to his teammate would set him so far back down the grid.

  2. Its clear who the #1 is at Mercedes, same as last year, and Merc will just keep going backwards and backwards in race pace. When Lewis can overtake down the straight, then maybe Merc have a chance, but until then it will just be Russell with his ‘engine mode’.

    Its clear Mercedes Power Unit is garbage compared to RBR, its clear that Ferrari are more interested in success as a team, its clear who ever is next to George next year will be a test mule as they make excuses for poor power unit performance and are gaped by RBR by up to 10 kph down the straights.

    1. @pcxmac you seem to be living with the idea that engine performance is the be all and end all to F1 car performance. It is not. Do you remember Red Bulls previous championship winning period from 2010 to 2013? It was a common sight for Red Bull to be found at the bottom of the top speed charts, with teams like Caterham sometimes at the very top.

      Truth is top speed is heavily influenced by aerodynamics. A design concept can be inherently draggy, or setups can lean towards more or less drag. All of this will influence top speed.

      The Merc PU is isn’t garbage. As opposed to 2014 onwards, F1 is now in an aero dominated age. There will be minor differences in PU performance but the main reason why that big difference between Mercedes and Red Bull is there is aero.

      1. The Renault V8 was actually pretty good. Maybe more fuel efficient than the Merc v8. Certainly, on par with or better in my estimation. Also Red Bull were using the exhaust blown diffuser to help bring the floor down the ground. How many championships did the Renault v8 win vs the Merc v8 ? A lot more, Macca only had one championship with the Merc V8 and Renault won the first year it was in use with Alonso, 2006. Arguably the Merc v8 was the worst ICE in that era, where as the Renault is the worst PU in use currently, with Mercedes PU slowly winding down to meet it while Ferrari and the Honda PU are vastly superior.

        1. Except that according to Norris himself, he has more power available to him than Verstappen. Not by a large margin due to the engine development freeze, so we’re talking 10-20bhp here at maximum, but nonetheless the Mercedes engine is not the problem. Supposedly it is also more driveable than the Honda PU.

          Mercedes problem is the rest of the car, not the engine.

  3. “So we need to analyse.”

    No, what you needed to do was not back an engine freeze to help Red Bull.

    Talk about kneecapping your own team.

    1. pretty much. Mercedes cannot compete with the Honda hybrid. in any shape or form, and RBR are notching it down for their other team, which is what Merc did for McLaren, except when Toto had stake in Williams and let them turn up the wick too.

      1. @pcxmac why do you think RBR are “notching the PU down” for RB? Why would they do that? They are miles ahead in terms of aero, so RB aren’t going to compete with them anyway. On top of that, they have more to gain with a stronger RB to take points away from competitors whenever they can.

        But it’s entirely moot, because they aren’t even doing it. They can’t, the rules simply prohibit it. Customer teams are given the same specification PU and must have access to the sale engine mappings. It used to be different in the past but it’s been like this for years now.

        1. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
          2nd March 2024, 22:08


          On top of that, they have more to gain with a stronger RB to take points away from competitors whenever they can.

          Toro Rosso’s results have always been clearly managed. That was Franz Tost’s purpose as a principal. To make sure they don’t underperform but more importantly that they stay in the right position in the WCC and WDC to not affect Red Bull adversely.

          They know that if both teams were heading for P1, P2 in the WCC even for one season, the sport would ban Toro Rosso.

          1. @freelittlebirds they never have had access to the same budgets, and the top drivers and staff are being promoted to Red Bull. Those are two reasons why STR/AT/RB generally cannot challenge RBR.

            If you call this “managing” then sure. But the topic was the supposed “notching” of the PU and it is very clear I was commenting on that.

          2. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
            3rd March 2024, 2:39

            @mattds it doesn’t take much to realize that Toro Rosso cannot be at the top of F1 along with Red Bull.

            Budgets and drivers are less important. Drivers will always drive a car as quickly as they can so you can’t rely on them to end P5 when the car might allow them to follow Max and Checo for a podium position.

            If the PU was that powerful, then the PU is definitely slower on purpose or the car has aerodynamic limiters added on purpose to prevent them from outperforming their target position.

        2. Anyone who watched Williams assent after the new Merc PU and noticed when Toto had stake in Williams and when he did not, and what happened to the performance after the team, when Toto and Suzie left, its pretty obvious that ‘notching’ the power unit ie, the provision of engine modes, is happening. Williams went from being able to carry drag and beat mid field teams to not being able to carry drag and hope to be just as fast down the straight. It was very obvious after Toto left because Williams went right to the back instead of contending for almost podiums.

          1. *ascent

      2. One of the big problems with the merc engine is cooling. They sacrificed the driver position last year and even the new car experienced cooling problems.
        Its not the engine power but the way they can use the aero to cool the engine.
        The engine freeze is not the problrm. They still can put new parts on it for reliability.

        1. The engine freeze is not the problrm. They still can put new parts on it for reliability.

          The reliability is fine, the performance is not. Backing the engine freeze to help Red Bull was a massive misjudgement. Even if Honda actually left (which they didn’t), the rules provided for Red Bull to be given Renault engines. There was never a problem for them where they would somehow be without engines. Nevertheless, Honda didn’t quit, but instead threw everything they had – and then some – at the last engine spec. So not only did they game the system under, if not entirely deceptive then at least dubious circumstances, the entire premise for the engine freeze no longer exists.

          I’m under no illusion that they’ll drop it given how close 2026 is, but why Wolff and Binotto weren’t fired on the spot by the higher ups at Mercedes and Stellantis baffles me to this day. As much as I’d like to see a competitive F1, there’s a bit of wry amusement to be had in seeing these guys losing so emphatically after rolling out the red carpet for their main competitor. They’re engine manufacturers… how did they ever think an engine freeze was a good idea? It’s ludicrous.

        2. Mercedes developed their slim pod design on the back of their heavier water-cooling solution. Now they’ve abandoned the slim-pod it makes you wonder if they are still choosing to keep that heavier water-cooling design.
          Also, their engine could be bound to the limits of their cooling. It would be pointless having a more powerful engine and not run it to its max because they couldn’t cool it at its maximum power.

          Short of some tremendous breakthrough on the aero front, this seems to be it for the Mercs.

  4. Sure, you’re further from Max than you think

  5. Unless Mercedes can find another 80-100 BHP its game over 2024. Shame with these regulations. At least with Mercedes both drivers got to win regularly or almost regularly, even Bottas got a few wins here and there, and didn’t have to worry about Roscoe accusing him of marriage infidelity.

    1. With an engine freeze exactly how are Mercedes going to get that 80-100 HP? Magic?

  6. Good lord. Are we in for another farcical non-competitive season to see Max establish another points record? Let’s hope not. It’s only the first race. Maybe someone will emerge to be able to keep Max nervous. For the benefit of F1 fans all over.

  7. further from Red Bull than we thought

    …which is precisely why he’s moving to Ferrari.

  8. Hmm… whatever about Red Bull, Mercedes as a team had plenty of time in Bahrain to test and understand the benefits of how different setups affect both qualifying and the race. Lewis and his mechanics didn’t get it right this time and qualifying so far down the order reduced the points haul on “Sunday”. Lewis usually had the edge over George on race pace last year, but it remains to be seen what will happen this year. He may not appreciate that Mercedes has often bent over backwards to appease him and that will probably not happen this year. While I think George was beaten over the season in the races, Lewis was facilitated by the team in his unteammate-like behaviour towards George on several occasions.

    Let’s see what happens over the season. From last year, I think Lewis is the next best driver after Max, but that is in part due to DRS being useful to gloss over his main weakness – overtaking reasonably competitive cars. Alonso’s creativity and craft aren’t that useful – shows what a “dinosaur” he is. You need to both qualify well and have good race pace to succeed today. Lewis may be second only to Max on the latter – a truly fine skill to have, but I wonder if he is losing his qualifying consistency. This isn’t just based on one race, but on the last couple of seasons. Let’s see.

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