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Is Lewis Hamilton set for the worst season of his F1 career? | F1

Mercedes extracted the maximum from their 2022 F1 car with fifth and sixth at the inaugural Miami Grand Prix but that result doesn’t tell the full story.

Seven-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton trailed former teammate Valtteri Bottas for over 40 laps in Miami, while George Russell only qualified 12th and his progress through the field was only possible thanks to the host of midfield cars making early stops onto hard tyres.

Like in Imola, Mercedes didn’t even have the third-quickest car with Alfa Romeo a step ahead of the reigning constructors’ champions.

Without the late Safety Car, it’s unlikely Russell would have beaten either Bottas or Hamilton with the latter relying on a mistake from the Finn to get ahead. 

Despite showing encouraging signs in Friday practice, Mercedes’ pace soon fell away once again highlighting the narrow window the W13 has in terms of performance. 

The porpoising phenomenon remains at the core of the current car’s issue with their no sidepod concept seemingly not working.

Mercedes have pointed towards Barcelona and the upcoming Spanish Grand Prix as a key weekend to assess their progress since pre-season testing.

The German team is hopeful that Barcelona will give the answers they need and whether their current car concept is worth sticking with for the rest of the season.

Why Mercedes are sticking with their current concept – for now

From the start, Mercedes have insisted that their current W13 has great potential and it’s a case of weeding out the porpoising to be able to extract the true performance from it.

Mercedes haven’t had a car qualify inside the top five all season and have relied on poor reliability from Red Bull to secure podium finishes in Bahrain and Australia.

While Friday showed Mercedes can have a quick car in the right circumstances, they are firmly in a midfield battle with Alfa Romeo or McLaren. 

Despite another underwhelming display in Miami, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff believes last weekend has given the team some “answers”.

“It has definitely given us answers,” Wolff said after the race in Miami. “On a positive side, the car is quick when it’s in the sweet spot. But understanding where the sweet spot is is something that we will come a step closer [to] after analysing all the data this weekend. Therefore, whether it’s Barcelona or not, I don’t know.”

Mercedes’ current inconsistency can be shown by Russell’s performance across the Miami weekend.

In FP2, Russell topped the timesheets with a 1m29.938s on Friday but only managed a 1m30.173s in Q2, where he only qualified 12th.

Granted, track conditions do change but to go slower than he managed on Friday is further evidence of how difficult getting the Mercedes W13 into the right window truly is. 

Wolff is insistent that the W13 has “potential” but conceded that the team doesn’t yet know how to unlock it.

“It’s clear there’s potential in the car and she’s fast, but we just don’t understand how to unlock the potential,” Wolff explained. “It’s a car that is super difficult to drive and on the edge, dipping in and out of the performance window – more out than in. And discussing the data with a scalpel is just a painful process because it takes very long. 

“As a matter of fact, the data sometimes doesn’t show what the drivers tell us. Certainly they have their hands full with a car that is just not at all comfortable, nice or predictable to drive. But the data doesn’t show any of these big swings. 

“We haven’t had this situation before in any of the years, that it just didn’t correlate on the screens what the driver feels and that is just making it even more difficult.”

Could Mercedes revert back to their old car?

One question that has been constantly posed in Wolff’s direction is whether Mercedes could revert to their launch car.

Mercedes unveiled the W13 back in February with a traditional, uninspiring design before waiting until pre-season testing to show off their innovative, beautiful no sidepod concept. 

Wolff is refusing to rule out going back to an older specification of their car.

“Well, I wouldn’t discount anything, but we need to give all of our people who have produced great racecars in the past the benefit of the doubt, and we believe this is the route to go down,” Wolff added.

“Barcelona is definitely going to be a point in time when we are able to correlate with what we’ve seen in February and gather more data. I’m also annoyed by always saying the same thing a lot: gathering data and making experiments. But it’s physics and not mystics and therefore you have to unpick the bones.”

In 2013, McLaren started the season on the backfoot with their aggressive design not working out.

The Woking outfit had the option to revert to their 2012 concept – which for the most part, was the class of the field – but stuck with their 2013 design. 

The decision didn’t work out as McLaren failed to register a single podium with either Jenson Button or Sergio Perez.

Wolff reiterated that Mercedes remain committed to their current concept but will know after Barcelona whether sticking with it is the best decision long term.

“We are still committed to the current concept and we need to be, because if we don’t believe and we give the other one a 50 per cent chance, then you better switch now,” Wolff said. 

“We’re faithful to the current concept. We’re not looking at the lady next door and if we like it more or not, because it’s still good. As a matter of fact, we need to understand – before you make a decision to switch to another concept – where did this one go wrong? And what is the goodness of the concept and what is the badness of the concept? 

“And that is a question you can only respond to yourself, which I would be asking ourselves, to get an answer after Barcelona, because that’s the real correlation we have. And by then, we’ve got to look at ourselves in the mirror and say: ‘did we get it wrong or not?’.” 

Will it be Hamilton’s worst season?

With Mercedes struggling for performance, Hamilton could be on for his worst season in F1.

The 37-year-old has won a grand prix in each of his 15 previous seasons in the sport and he’s never finished lower than fifth in the drivers’ championship.

Hamilton has 36 points to his name after the first five races of 2022 – this makes it his second-worst start to a year.

Only 2009 was worst with Hamilton scoring 28 points (adjusted to the current points system as prior to 2010, points were only awarded to the top eight). 

Given Red Bull and Ferrari’s significant performance advantage, it’s unlikely that Mercedes will be able to mount a title push even if they solve their current issues.

The best Hamilton could hope for in 2022 is adding to his 103 victory tally to preserve his record of winning at least one grand prix in every F1 season he’s participated in.

Let’s see how Barcelona goes. 

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