Lewis Hamilton described Mercedes taking third and fourth place in the Australian Grand Prix as “an amazing result” despite still struggling for performance thanks to the car’s porpoising problems.
Hamilton finished fourth, one place behind teammate George Russell after the duo swapped places during the pit stops thanks to timing of a safety car period triggered by Sebastian Vettel crashing his Aston Martin at Turn 4. Hamilton had already made his stop, meaning Russell could make his a lap later under the safety car and re-emerge ahead of his team-mate, as well as Red Bull driver Sergio Perez.
Perez later repassed Russell, but Verstappen’s retirement meant Mercedes did get one driver on the podium. The duo finished well clear of Mercedes-engined McLaren, with Lando Norris fifth ahead of Daniel Ricciardo.
Hamilton was delighted that it was possible at least briefly to challenge Perez at points in the race, having struggled particularly badly on Friday.
“It’s an amazing result for us as a team,” said Hamilton. “Honestly, it’s such a positive.
“We were 1.2 seconds off on Friday and it wasn’t looking spectacular at that point. We did some great work overnight to qualify on the third row and then had great starts.
“I was up in third and it felt amazing to be fighting — or feel like we’re fighting [at the front]. But we couldn’t hold the pace of the Red Bulls.
“While we haven’t necessarily improved the car over these three races, we’ve really extracted the most we could. To come away with this result is great.”
Despite knowing it will still take some time for Mercedes to fix the W13’s limitations, which are down to having to sacrifice downforce by running a higher ride height to mitigate porpoising combined with the dynamic effect of the car bouncing at the entry to fast corners, Hamilton remains optimistic that it’s possible to get into title contention.
Mercedes holds second in the constructors’ championship thanks to Red Bull’s reliability problems, albeit 49 points behind Ferrari, with Russell and Hamilton 34 points and 43 points respectively behind drivers’ standings leader Charles Leclerc.
Although Hamilton fears that the top teams might match each other’s development rate, meaning there’s little change at the top, he is hopeful Mercedes can bridge the gap.
“I prefer to stay optimistic,” said Hamilton. “There’s 20 races to go. If you think realistically with the way our sport goes in terms of the top teams often develop at a similar rate, will that be the case with this year’s car? Who knows?
“But I really, really hope we can get in the fight. With every bit of improvement we’ll probably make, the others and Red Bull will probably make similar sort of steps. So it’s not going to be easy and the gap is pretty big right now, but there’s a long way to go.”
Russell, who celebrated his first Mercedes podium finish — having previous taken a second place in last year’s truncated Belgian Grand Prix for Williams — is satisfied that Mercedes has at least limited the damage in the early races. While he doesn’t expect upgrades to transform the car imminently, he believes the team has got the best-possible result in each race so far.
“I don’t think we could have achieved a higher result at any of the circuits as a team and that is, I guess, a silver lining,” said Russell. “But unfortunately, there’s nothing substantial in the pipeline anytime soon. It’s not going to happen overnight — it’s going to take a number of races.
“There’ll be little things, incremental steps but we recognize that our rivals are going to be doing the same. So it may not be clear to the outside world that we’ve made progress because Ferrari and Red Bull are going to be making progress as well.”