Lewis Hamilton says he’s been operating beneath his usual competitive standard despite not having the car to take the fight to the leaders.
The Briton beat Max Verstappen to a shock pole by just 0.003s on Saturday to set up a potentially fascinating battle, but a slow start opened the door to a bold move on the brakes by the Dutchman to assume the lead into the first corner.
Verstappen went on to claim a 33s victory, the largest since Hamilton won the 2021 Russian Grand Prix by almost a minute. Hamilton eventually trailed home fourth, 39s off the lead.
The 2021 season seemed to be on Hamilton’s mind. It had been the year of his last pole before Saturday and remains the season of his last victory.
“I haven’t been at my best for over a year,” he said on Sunday night. “I think yesterday felt like I was me being back to my best.
“Max got a better start than me. I just got a bit of wheelspin and was a bit compromised after that. I think we may have been able to finish third with a slightly better start, but fourth is still OK.”
Hamilton said his inability to covert pole to podium was just another reminder of how much work Mercedes still has to do to return to contention.
“It’s obvious that we’re not the quickest,” he said. “We don’t have the quickest car.
“I’m really proud of myself and the job that we did yesterday to get pole position, to outperform the world champion and the other two cars that are quicker than us. Today it’s just reality. The reality is we’re not fast enough.”
Mercedes’ race simulation tools correctly predicted that Red Bull Racing would be too quick to overhaul, but the team had been anticipating a battle with McLaren for a podium spot at least.
Instead, Lando Norris again proved agonizingly out of reach, and while Hamilton was able to beat Oscar Piastri, the Australian was hamstrung by floor damage picked up sometime after his first stint.
“They already told me in strategy this morning I would be at least 0.5s slower than the Red Bulls, so the fight’s not with Max. We were hoping that we could fight the McLarens, but the McLaren was too quick for us,” Hamilton said.
“We were just too slow in the first two stints. The balance was not good, the car was just slow — just the balance of the car shifting through the race. Then the balance picked up a lot at the end and all of a sudden I was able to apply the pressure, but it was too late.”
Teammate George Russell enjoyed a more fruitful race, recovering from 18th to sixth in what he described as a missed opportunity for the team after his qualifying result was ruined by bad timing.
“To come away P6 with no safety car and no VSC, on merit, was a really great result but equally proof that this weekend was probably a missed opportunity,” he said. “I’m confident I could’ve been up there with Lewis yesterday.
“When you’ve got two cars up there fighting for, let’s say, P2, it gives you a lot more options. Lewis was really strong as well, and if things panned out slightly differently, he would’ve been P2 as well.
“As I said, missed opportunity. We’ll learn from it. But the positives are we’re moving ahead of Aston and Ferrari.”