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In the wake of the opening two practice sessions for yesterday’s Canadian Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton cut a disconsolate figure.
His car, he said, was “undriveable”, the attempted fixes to address porpoising had done little to improve the handling, the pace of the car or his mood.
Just a week before, Hamilton had suffered what he called the toughest and most painful race of his career, as a 10G load punished his body and left him with back issues which he said were unsustainable.
But a second podium of the season to match the third place he achieved at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix lifted the spirits of Hamilton and Mercedes, and left him bullishly warning the best was yet to come.
“The potential is truly there if we can get the set-up right,” he said. “I’ve not been on the podium for a long time and at the place I got my first win 15 years ago — to experience the energy from the crowd is very reminiscent of that first year.
“I’m so, so happy. It feels incredible today to be in among the battle. I was just about keeping up with these guys, they pulled away at the end, but it has given the team and I a lot of hope that there is more to come from this car.”
Hamilton and Mercedes have thrown the proverbial kitchen sink at this year’s car. In the wake of his Montreal podium, he said the latest drastic changes for Friday practice had not had the desired effect.
The seven-time world champion has struggled to put a positive spin on much of his exploits in the car this season. But after yesterday’s race, he praised both the car’s race pace as well as its reliability. Mercedes are the only team whose two cars have finished every race this season.
As the team slowly get to grips with their various other gremlins, Hamilton, who finished a place above team-mate George Russell, said: “One great issue is reliability and that’s a tribute to all the work by the team. I know where I’m losing to these guys and we’re going to focus on attacking. We will get there eventually.”
The signs are good for his home race in two weeks’ time at Silverstone, a track which has predominantly high- and medium-speed corners, where the Mercedes appears to have been happier since Spain last month.
Russell was more reserved looking ahead to the British Grand Prix and beyond after the false dawn of Barcelona, where the team were a match for the Red Bulls and Ferrari, was followed by the nadir of Baku.
“We’re facing different issues every weekend,” he said. “I’d like to think we’ll be more competitive but I just don’t know. I like to think the high-speed nature should suit us more but there are no guarantees.”
The row over the FIA directive to help protect driver safety around the porpoising, or bouncing, of the cars looks unlikely to go away in the wake of this race.
Rival teams hinted that Mercedes had got advance warning about it, hence a second floor stay created in time and attached to Russell’s car for Friday practice. Mercedes removed it, claiming it had not improved their pace, while others suggested it was a reaction to a potential protest.
Team principal Toto Wolff has pushed for changes to address the issue and said those blocking it were guilty of “political manoeuvring” and that his peers had a “responsibility to not take this lightly”.
In the wake of yesterday’s race, Wolff described the upturn as “glimpses of performance”, but he was not getting carried away.
He said: “Everybody is in a good space but there’s lots of work to do. One swallow doesn’t make a summer. We saw that swallow in Barcelona but somehow it flew somewhere else. Today, at times, we were with the quickest cars. On the second stint, Lewis and George were almost matching the frontrunners, but we’re not yet there.
“Now we should manage our own expectations and really grind away, look at the data and come up with some sensible solutions for Silverstone going forward.”