Lewis Hamilton says Mercedes is clearly not bluffing about its issues after a tough Friday at the Bahrain Grand Prix, and won’t be able to find short-term fixes for its shortcomings.
Mercedes looked to be struggling to get its car running consistently during pre-season testing, suffering from porpoising — or bouncing — when trying to run the car lower to gain performance. After a week of trying to understand the problem, there were still issues during Friday practice as Hamilton ended up ninth quickest and 1.2 seconds behind pacesetter Max Verstappen, and the seven-time world champion says it shows just where Mercedes stands at the moment.
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“Well, we’ve had relatively small problems in the past compared to this year,” Hamilton said. “We’ve had much, much smaller problems. We’ve got much, much bigger problems this year, and everything we do to try and fix it doesn’t really change that, so it appears that it’s probably going to be a more longer-term fix.
“The braking thing is something we can fix, so that’s not a concern; it’s more the balance and this bouncing that we have and the loss of downforce that we generally seem to have compared to others. It’s making it much, much harder out there. As you can see, we’re a long way off — we’re not bluffing like people assumed we were. So it is what it is, we’ll work as hard as we can and do what we can.
“We can’t really do anything — this is the car. I can try to improve the setup, but it’s not the setup that’s the issue.”
Hamilton says the best hope Mercedes has at present is to fight for third quickest behind Red Bull and Ferrari.
“I’m just realistic. At the moment — like I told you last week — we’re not going to be in the race for a win here. If you look at the Red Bulls they’re a long, long way ahead — it’s in the region of 0.8-0.9s ahead of us, and Ferrari is something like 0.5-0.6s ahead of us, so we’re scrapping with whoever’s behind them.
“My mindset is still just trying to be the best I can be, get the most out of the car. It’s not ideal but it is what it is and we’ll work together as a team tonight and try to fix it.”
Despite the evidence from Friday, defending champion Verstappen is still skeptical about how much trouble Mercedes is actually in.
“Very pleased (with Red Bull’s pace), but you can see Ferrari is pushing hard, and they’re very close, but that’s very exciting as well,” Verstappen said. “We have to wait and see a little bit, also with engine modes tomorrow from all the teams to really see where we are.
“We’ll have to wait and see tomorrow, when everyone is turning their engines up fully, how much is really in it (to Mercedes).”