Lewis Hamilton apologises for slamming Mercedes but admits team 'needed a kick'
Lewis Hamilton has apologised for accusing his Mercedes team of failing to listen to his concerns over their 2023 car. But speaking ahead of this weekend’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, the seven-time world champion said the entire team “needed a kick” as they were lagging around “1.5 seconds a lap” behind Red Bull in terms of race pace.
Mercedes began this season hopeful they had addressed their speed deficit to Red Bull. But a disastrous opening race in Bahrain two weeks ago ended with Hamilton’s team-mate George Russell predicting Max Verstappen would win “all 23 races this year”, such was Red Bull’s speed advantage, and Hamilton hitting out at his team over their failure to heed his warnings. Mercedes are now rethinking their entire car concept.
“It’s about owning up and saying ‘yeah, you know what, we didn’t listen to you, it’s not where it needs to be,’ ” Hamilton told BBC Radio 5 Live after finishing fifth in Sakhir. Addressing those comments yesterday, Hamilton, who is out of contract at the end of this year, apologised.
“In hindsight, looking back, it wasn’t necessarily the best choice of words,” he said. “Of course there are times where you’re not in agreement with certain team members, but what’s important is that we continue to communicate, we continue to pull together.
I still have 100 per cent belief in this team; it is my family and I’ve been here a long time, so I don’t plan on going anywhere else. But we all need a kick, we all need to get on.”
Hamilton added that Mercedes reckoned their speed deficit is anywhere up to 1.5 seconds per lap, with Red Bull likely to be hiding their real pace. “I think in the race, they weren’t pushing and so I think they’re a lot quicker than they even seemed,” he said.
“We’ve got to now start making some bold decisions, some big moves in order to close the gap to these guys, otherwise they’re going to…they will run away with it, most likely, this year unless Ferrari can stop them, which we’ll wait and see.
But as I said, hopefully at some point during the year we’re hopeful we might be able to close the gap, but at that point, it’ll be probably too late in terms of fighting for a championship, but we can still turn some heads hopefully.”
Ferrari have already suffered a blow this weekend, with Charles Leclerc taking a 10-place drop at only the second race of the year for exceeding the permitted number of electronic control units.
“It’s not the way you want to start a season with a 10-place grid penalty on your team-mate,” Carlos Sainz said. “Because you know that you are also exposed to that and, sooner or later, there might be an issue also in your car. [But] I think we have reasons to believe that this track should be a bit better for us.”
Practice begins today, but the high-speed Jeddah Corniche Circuit certainly presents a very different challenge to Bahrain, both on and off the track. Last year’s race was dominated by a missile strike by Yemeni rebels against an oil refinery close to the track and a number of drivers expressed their concerns yesterday about returning to the city.
“None of us enjoyed it [last year],” admitted Haas’s Kevin Magnussen. “But it is a different situation now… there is a ceasefire between the two parties that were involved last year and that gives some confidence.”
Hamilton was initially reticent to give an opinion on either safety or human rights, saying only that he believed “the opposite to” some of his drivers after they said they believed positive change was happening in Saudi Arabia, which has been accused by human rights groups of widespread abuses.
After being pressed, Hamilton added: “I still feel that as a sport going to places with human rights issues such as this one, the sport is duty-bound to raise awareness and try to leave a positive impact. I feel it needs to do more.