- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
Introducing Telegraph Sport's brand new newsletter: Formula 1: The Racing Line. Starting after this month's Monaco Grand Prix, it provides the perfect recap after each race weekend. Sign up here.
Within moments, Lewis Hamilton’s Spanish Grand Prix had an air of familiar difficulty about it. Starting two places behind team-mate George Russell, he collided with Haas’s Kevin Magnussen, suffering a puncture, dropping him back to 19th. He looked in store for another frustrating race.
On lap five he took to the team radio to offer his thoughts. "I would save this engine if I were you," Hamilton said. He was told by his race engineer that points were possible.
It all seemed a little defeatist, though Hamilton said he was just thinking sensibly. In a race which proved to be attritional in 36-degree heat you could perhaps see his logic.
Yet but for a late power unit water leak, he would have finished fourth after a much more characteristic comeback drive. There is finally some reason for cheer and optimism at Mercedes, and with 16 rounds still remaining.
New floor helps Mercedes steady their ‘bouncing’ woes
Ultimately. Russell’s podium and Hamilton’s drive through the field gave a few promising signs that the ‘real’ Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes have finally turned up in 2022.
“A race like that is like a win. It actually feels better than a win when you’ve come from so far back and through so much adversity,” Hamilton said after the race.
How have Mercedes got here? The team have always said that once they get on top of their main issue of bouncing on the straights and in high-speed corners, they would be able to unlock the true pace of the W13, which, Mercedes say, is a fundamentally fast car.
So far they have failed to do this and suffered the consequences of being adrift of Red Bull and Ferrari.
Barcelona has always been the traditional race for a raft of upgrades and this weekend there was a significant floor upgrade – featuring a so-called ‘ice skate’ section, almost creating a wing on the edge – on the car. This was absolutely critical in helping them overcome their biggest problem of 2022.
It is not completely solved yet – Russell said there was still some in the high-speed corners here pre-Sunday – but the progress on this front feels like a watershed. Now they fight to unlock the rest of the pace.
Mercedes find their raw speed, as Hamilton’s run demonstrated
For most of this season, the wisdom has been that it will only be a matter of time before Mercedes – a team with eight consecutive constructors’ titles behind them – get their act together. Yet their ultimate progress has been barely measurable before this weekend in Spain.
Practice and qualifying was promising, with George Russell securing the team’s first second-row start of the season on Saturday. He was still 0.6sec off Leclerc’s pole lap, but Russell felt that he left a few tenths in the car. F1 drivers are not shy about telling you when they get the most from the car, so it is fair to take him at his word.
There was talk that they would be stronger in the race and after a false dawn in Miami two weeks ago, the step forward in Spain on Sunday was not gigantic but was certainly significant.
Hamilton’s and Russell’s raw pace in race trim was as good as it has been in 2022 by some margin. Mercedes have barely taken baby steps this season but this felt like a jump.
Toto Wolff claimed that Hamilton was the fastest car out there today. Is that true? It is difficult to tell. It was a strange, atypical Spanish Grand Prix. Verstappen’s DRS issue, Leclerc’s failure and Sainz’s spin all complicated matters.
But by the time Hamilton overtook Sainz for fourth they were on a similar strategy. That is a bottom line that has not been a possible reality for Mercedes all season.
Russell and Hamilton put up a fight, but are Mercedes and Hamilton back in the fight?
Hamilton’s race was a bit of a rollercoaster, but his overtake of Sainz for fourth felt like the pre-2022 Hamilton. It was a bold move around the outside, later on the brakes which he made stick. It was the sort he has tried and succeeded with many, many times before.
Russell’s race was exemplary once again. A second podium of the season and stretching his lead over Hamilton will feel good, but fighting with Verstappen’s Red Bull at the front – when it would have been unthinkable anywhere else this season – should feel even better.
Of course, Verstappen’s DRS malfunction exaggerated how close the cars were on performance, but Russell getting his elbows out, running Verstappen wide at turn three bodes well for battles later in the season. We hope to see more.
”It was hard racing. He was getting a little bit late with some of his moves into turn one but the two guys were racing hard and it was good racing,” Red Bull’s Christian Horner noted after the race.
So, are Mercedes back in the fight? Not yet. They are fighting near the front – albeit not at the very front – again, on merit. It is something. Where Mercedes could be, rather than where they currently are, is the thing to get excited about.
Hamilton’s mood after the race was buoyant, in stark contrast to much of the season so far.
“Since the last race of last year it has been difficult all round. But I keep getting back on the horse and keep pushing and never give up. “I started the race today positive and then had that problem. But to then come back it felt like some of the older races I have done. That for me feels amazing.”
It is still a long road back, especially for Hamilton, who does not think they will be in the fight for first in Monaco next week. But the mood seems to have finally turned at Mercedes.