Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Albert Park, 2024

Hamilton: Verstappen already “very hard to catch” after first two races

Formula 1

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Lewis Hamilton is targeting race wins in his final season with Mercedes but doubts he will be able to challenge for the championship.

After winning six world championship titles with Mercedes and taken 82 grand prix victories, Hamilton has not won a race for over two years. While Mercedes changed their car concept for 2024, Hamilton has scored just eight points in the first two rounds of the new season, and rivals Red Bull have continued to dominate.

However he believes Mercedes’s latest design can become a race winner. “I do think we have an amazing car,” Hamilton told Sky. “There’s a lot of potential in it. I think we just haven’t maximised it at the moment – through set-up, through ultimately mistakes.

“We were obviously not happy with the performance of those first couple of races. But I think there’s a lot more potential in that we just haven’t quite extracted yet. So that’s what everyone’s focus is on, just trying to understand the car.”

Hamilton says the W15 drives better than last year’s W14 and has already been improved over how it drove in the pre-season test in Bahrain at the end of February.

“There’s definitely elements that we’ve made big improvements with this car,” he said. “Just in terms of just generally driving it, it feels like a much, much better car, much more like a race car. But it can drop off one end or the other end. It’s a narrow working window with these types of cars.”

Despite Mercedes failing to finish on the podium in the opening two rounds for the second time in the ground effect era, Hamilton says the former world champions still have what it takes to win.

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“I do believe that we’ve still got that winning mindset within the team,” he said. “I have absolute faith that these guys are going to fix any of the problems that we have. We will get there.”

However Hamilton believes Max Verstappen’s early lead in the drivers’ championship will likely put his 2021 title rival out of reach.

“The fact that Max has 50 points and we only have eight points after two races, if you just think logically about it – you have to be conscious that it’s a very long season also so things can change – but it’s going to be very hard to catch those guys.

“Their car, they drop it on the track and it just works. For us, we are really, really grinding to pick up that performance and get it to where we need to be.

“The dream and the goal is still if we can get wins this year or podiums this year, I think that could be really amazing. To finish second in the constructors’ [championship] last year, given the issues we had with the car, just shows what we can do with something that’s not even perfect. So I’m hoping that we can do that again this year.”

Hamilton says he is hoping that Mercedes will make “a step forward” this weekend in Australia.

“There’s a huge amount of work that’s going on,” he said. “Everyone’s heads are down in the numbers.

“I feel positive for this weekend. We’ve had two not-such-great races, but there’s a long way ahead.”

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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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43 comments on “Hamilton: Verstappen already “very hard to catch” after first two races”

  1. Unfortunately, this situation is the present reality & possible until the next technical regulation change.

    1. next year might be different if Ferrari can improve their power unit in ways that RBR have. Currently though, the RBR car is at least effectively 60+ bhp over the Merc so they cannot do much about their down force/drag situation. Merc attempted to have a fast car down the straight in Jeddah but the Merc’s PU/differential/suspension/rear braking ‘shapes’ just cannot cope with RBR. Until Merc start using Traction Control (Off throttle misfiring/Electric Motor) and better braking shapes, and improve their differential its not gonna happen.

      1. the Ferrari PU is not the issue; I thought it was actually a better one (as many have also stated); its all the other stuff (aero mostly) on the car that makes the RBR better

        1. I think the larger cross section (think F-22/super cruise) works for RBR, because it simplifies the drag, and they probably have a better floor, but not drastically. So I think they benefit in fuel consumption, but I don’t think their aero is really contributing to their overtakes as much as their PU/electrics are.

          I would be very surprised if RBR didn’t have full on Traction Control cooked in to the small little controllers that control their drive train, and their electrics look a lot like the 919’s. The motor’s off throttle misfiring can help with turbo lag, but its also helping drag the rear in to the corners, much like GP bikes use the ‘popping’ to help stabilize the balance of a bike. Also, break shaping with the computerized brakes takes quite a lot of the skill out of balancing a car around a curve.

      2. Barring rules change for next season nobody has a chance to compete till 2026. They’re not even going all out in the races. Last season let alone this one. Generally they’re cruising in

      3. Sorry but 60 BHP? You are making up numbers and you know it.

        If anything the Mercedes power unit is still the most powerful on the grid, according to Norris. However, the mutual differences are very small nowadays, probably there’s not more than 15bhp difference between RBPT, Mercedes and Ferrari, and perhaps Renault trails this group by about 20bhp.

        But that does not fit your narrative, right?

        1. 50-60 bhp is worth at least half a second on the average track I believe, probably more so on the faster circuits. Which is at least RBR’s advantage. Sorry, I don’t believe RBR have a vastly more efficient car, they just developed the Honda to it’s potential, and probably had some help, maybe even with Porsche, or their IP/former employees (speculation). I am pretty sure RBR-Honda has at least 50-60 bhp advantage over their rivals. Their ‘efficiency’ making a greater difference over race distance of course. I also think their ‘efficiency’ isn’t why they are so much better down the straight, that is their PU/Electrics. Porsche used to look very much the same down the straight with their 919.

          If I were Ford, I would not be quitting a potential to pick up valuable IP from RBR, plus the name brand recognition that goes in to a winning car. RBR most likely picked Ford because they have the finances but maybe are so removed from the racing scene that they will remain compliant with the desires of RBR+

          1. You just don’t believe it’s down to aerodynamic efficiency? Do you have any arguments to back this up?

            A 60 bhp advantage is massive. No way that any manufacturer would accept this in any homologated PU regulation.

            A car is so much more than an engine.

      4. Would be interested in what you mean by traction control, can you kindly elaborate?

  2. I think everyone knows the championship is already over. What’s shocking for Mercedes is that they are worse than the last 2 years.

    Don’t forget they were on the front row last year and running 1-2 for the start of the race. Theres no chance of that this year!

  3. The dream and the goal is still if we can get wins this year or podiums this year, I think that could be really amazing.

    That’s only “the dream”? For Max it was the reality when he was winning races every single season, despite driving cars which were 0.5s-1s/lap slower than Mercedes:

    2017 Malaysia – win in a car 0.5s slower than Merc
    2018 Austria – win in a car 0.7s slower than Merc and 0.4s slower than Ferrari
    2019 Austria – win in a car 0.4s slower than Ferrari and 0.2s slower than Merc
    2020 70th – win in a car 1s slower than Merc

    Yet when roles are reversed and Mercedes are actually in a better position, because their car is only 0.2-0.5s/lap slower than Red Bull, they can’t even get a single win for Hamilton. I wonder why is that, huh?

    1. Well, I think it is clear by now one needs a faster car than the one Max is driving to be able to compete with him. An on par car simply won’t do. His consistency alone will keep him leading the championship. I can see a year where others have a better car and Max doesn’t win a single race but takes the WDC nevertheless by just always being 2nd or 3rd.

    2. Are those quali deltas or race pace deltas, because there is a HUGE difference as you would well know.
      Also, a fundamental aspect of the dominance of the Red Bull’s over the past few years has been their tyre management, and so to equate the difference to something as simple as 0.x seconds is disingenuous at best


      1. The problem is he doesn’t know, I’ve never seen him make a comment where he acknowledges race pace is different than quali, it’s all about quali pace for him from what I’ve seen.

        1. Just like Ferrari ;-)

      2. In that era were qualifying engine modes a thing too?

    3. Because Red Bull’s strengths shine in the race, not qualifying – and even there they’re usually fastest.

    4. Wasnt the 2020 70th win more to do with trye deg because of the hot weather rather than being super human ;)

      1. *tyre deg

    5. A very sweeping statement but those “results” don’t tell the full story.

      Malaysia 2017 – The Redbull had incredible race pace. If you look at Hamilton vs Verstappens fastest race laps they are matched almost to the millisecond. I’m not sure if this is when Mercedes still had their famous “Party Mode” in qualifying, but as other have already stated single lap vs race pace is two completely different things. The RedBull also won 3 races that year. Mercedes have won 1 in nearly 3 years. The pace isn’t at all comparable to what we’re seeing currently.

      Austria 2018 – Verstappen pitted under VSC saving 10-15 seconds. Before that Hamilton had a 5 second race lead. A strategy screw up from Mercedes rather than Verstappen out driving the car.

      Austria 2019 – Verstappen actually out-qualified both Mercedes and had stronger race pace, so I’m not sure where those figures come from? I’d argue RedBull had the stronger car for this race.

      70th GP – Mercedes had a big qualifying advantage, but also had much worse tyre wear. The ability to quickly heat its tyres is partly what caused the huge gap in qualifying. Sure, this was a solid drive from Max, but let’s not act like he’s driving a williams and winning. The RedBull that year was very strong in race trim.

      If you’re still wondering why that is, then its clear to see the gap between RedBull and Merceds now is completely different to those examples. 0.2-0.5 per lap you’re in a dream world. Verstappen pulled 6 seconds in 5 laps on a Ferrari, let alone a Mercedes.

      1. Yet it became reality. Mercedes dropped the ball those races or was somewhat unlucky. This can be reversed: Red Bull can be expected to drop the ball once in a while and Mercedes may maneuver itself in the position to pick up the pieces. It speaks for Red Bull that there are so few situations in which they blundered in the past 1.5 years, even though there were plenty of opportunities to do so. And it needs to be said, Verstappen has been quite consistent too.

        1. There’s no doubt red bull is better managed than mercedes (I remember bad strategies that went under the radar because they were so dominant) and there’s no doubt verstappen is very consistent, but here we’re dealing with someone exagerating to the n power everything verstappen does, and many of those races he mentioned red bull actually had the best car.

          1. How do you even know? You basically assume all drivers Perform at the same level every weekend.

            It is entirely possible that Verstappen did in fact have theoretically a slower car and Hamilton simply was having an off weekend which if you’re being sane and honest with yourself he has every few races.

            There are two extremes and a middle ground. The middle ground is basically that some of those races RB had the best car and some of those races Hamilton was just poor.

            Given the consistency in performances between Verstappen and Hamilton, only someone intentionally trying to discredit any driver contribution would reduce it to best car and move on.

            Obviously you cannot know what percentage is what but definitely its more plausible Given Verstappen in a dominant car seems to win every race unlike Hamilton who got shown even by Bottas few weekends a year.

      2. thank you! some context was needed. its too easy to just wiki results and form an uninformed opinion.

    6. Like always you’re oversimplifying things, I remember well those races, and while I liked what verstappen was doing those seasons, the reality is red bull had the best car in the race in malaysia 2017, by far the best car in the race in austria 2019, austria 2018 was a great race with all the 3 top teams being faster in different moments of the race, and he had to defend from ferraris in the end, and 2020 anniversary gp I guess your 1 sec slower data is based on the other silverstone race that year, but they had different tyre compounds there and if I recall red bull was suddenly faster that one race.

    7. truly an armchair take. well done!

    8. maybe you simply cant comprehend car performances. RBR is close to 1s faster than any other car.

    9. I just noticed, after loosing Masi, lewis never won anything.

  4. Hamilton’s wrong. Max in an Aston Martin would be easy to catch, Max in a Red Bull is hard to catch.

    1. Yes, in seasons where the best driver is also in the best car, if you swap some drivers around and the best driver ends up in the 2nd best car and you put an average driver in the top car, you suddenly have competition.

      This would also happen in seasons like 2002 and 2004, basically drivers who are weak enough they waste the potential of the dominant car.

      1. Indeed, some of the best seasons feature that dynamic, with the best driver being in a perpetual chase against a competitor with a slightly better car.

  5. So, drive faster, dude

    1. think smarter dude

      1. Agreed, #44 needs to think a lot smarter as well as drive faster. Shockingly poor at both

  6. Even if Red Bull has a dismal race Mercedes will still need to beat Ferrari to the win. I’m not placing money on a Mercedes win in the first half of 2024.

  7. Tell you what is “going to be very hard”: Getting up at 4am for the race. I just ain’t sure I’m going to do it…..

    1. Just stay up until 4am.

      1. Thanks, that’s one possibility!

      2. That’s how I usually do, but I’m not watching these races fully, I just use the send 10 sec forward button till something happens, as things are looking I don’t even know if red bull or verstappen will lose any race this year: red bull is stronger than last year compared to the field and perez had a weaker start.

  8. Pedro Henrique Fernandes Carneiro
    21st March 2024, 20:01

    Such a hipocrite, isn’t he? I didn’t see him complaining about Mercedes domination in the hybrid era

    1. There was no era of 3 yrs with a 1s+ car advantage

      1. Thanks, it was more than 3..

    2. and you don’t see Max complaining now either, do you?

      so silly.

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