Lewis Hamilton says being lapped by Max Verstappen at the Emilia Romagna GP “shows how wrong” Mercedes got it with their new 2022 car, while team boss Toto Wolff says the team still don’t know the fix but are open to the possibility that the concept “simply doesn’t work”.
Hamilton and Mercedes’ surprising dismal start to the season took a further turn for the worse last weekend as the seven-time champion scored zero points from the two Imola races, struggling out of the top 10.
Rubbing salt in the wound, Hamilton was lapped by Verstappen, Sunday’s winner and the driver he was controversially beaten to the title to last year.
Asked by F1 about being lapped while running 14th, Hamilton said: “It just shows how wrong we got it.”
The big 2022 rule changes brought with them a completely new car design, although Mercedes, on a record streak of eight straight constructors’ titles, were expected to ace the overhaul and run at the front.
But while the team’s design was hailed as innovative at pre-season testing, it has still yet to convert to competitive lap times and they have been around a second-per-lap slower than Red Bull and Ferrari, while also suffering with ‘porpoising’ – the bouncing effect along the straights.
Speaking to reporters, Hamilton referenced comments he made back at Bahrain testing when he hit back at a question about Mercedes potentially not fighting for the title, insisting they “don’t make mistakes”.
Having now ruled himself out of the championship, Hamilton said: “A question was put to me… ‘what happens if you get it wrong?’ And I said, ‘well we don’t do that, we don’t get things wrong, we’re world champions.’
“But the fact is, with all the possibilities out there, we may have.”
Hamilton is seventh in the championship and already 58 points behind leader Charles Leclerc after four races, while Mercedes are third in the team standings behind Ferrari and Red Bull.
Wolff sorry for Hamilton, opens up on Merc’s design dilemma
Speaking after Sunday’s race, Mercedes team principal Wolff said Hamilton, who has won six of his seven titles with the Silver Arrows, “deserves better from us”.
“The guy is the best driver in the world and he is just not having the machine and the equipment underneath him to be able to execute,” added Wolff, although George Russell did finish fourth in the Emilia Romagna GP.
Mercedes’ main issue this year with the new ground-effect cars has been their porpoising – with the bouncing far more violent than any other team and costing them crucial lap time.
“We very much believe that the signs we’re putting in at the moment will help us to in effect run the car lower, where we believe we have all the aerodynamic goodness,” explained Wolff. “But we haven’t been able to unlock it because of the bottoming out of the car.
“If we are able to finally get on top of that, that means there is quite some lap time we can find. If not… we need to have another idea.”
Wolff also admitted for the first time that he is open to the possibility that the concept of the car may be flawed – while also stating Mercedes do not know how to fix their car yet.
“It is a valid point [that the design concept may be wrong],” said Wolff. “All of the goodness and the badness happens mainly on the floor as it stands at the moment.
“We have interesting ideas and concepts that we are trying and that we are exploring that have to find its way onto the car in the next few races. I would say there’s no such thing as a concept being wrong.
“But is there a part of what we have done which simply doesn’t work with the regulations? And what is it?
“You don’t need to throw away the goodness. But if there are fundamental areas that don’t allow us to unlock the potential we believe is in the car then obviously yeah, you need to cut your losses.”
Asked again about Mercedes ‘cutting their losses’, Wolff refused to commit to such an avenue.
“It would mean that you would say, where is the baseline now? Is there a new baseline we can start upon where we believe we can unlock more potential?
“If we would have thought that, we would have done it five months ago.
“We believe this is the development we need to take. It’s quite a tricky exercise to do… before we take such decision, we need to really continue in the science and continue finding out what is [the problem]. Only then you can say cut your losses and switch to next year if you understand where you got it wrong. And at the moment we simply don’t. Not yet.”
Hamilton: W13 not my worst car | ‘This will only make us stronger’
Hamilton also said Mercedes were not yet “writing off” their car.
“I can’t say whether the concept is flawed, I’m not an aerodynamicist,” asserted F1’s most successful driver.
“At some stage we will have a better understanding of whether that is the case. Maybe all of a sudden we’ll fix the bouncing and that will unlock the potential.
“It’s difficult to write it off any time soon because everyone’s continuing to work on it. Hopefully it will come to light soon whichever way it is and then we can start putting our focus onto the solution, because we haven’t found the solution yet.”
The Englishman, however, insisted this was not the lowest point of his career and he had in fact had more difficult cars.
“There are people that watch and say that I’ve never had a bad car,” said Hamilton.
“I can assure you I have. 2009’s car [at McLaren] was very, very far off and was the worst car that I’ve had.
“This car currently is not far off that experience but I think has a lot of potential. As did that car. We fixed it eventually and got back in the game and I have the utmost faith that my team can do that her too.”
He continued: “Initially it’s frustrating because you see those points, pulling away, and you want to be in that fight… but when you’re struggling to even get in the top-10, the sooner you can accept the reality which you are faced with, the sooner you can move that energy, that strain, onto a positive effort.
“These things are sent to try us and this will only make us stronger, as painful as it’s going to be.”