Lewis Hamilton says his Mercedes team’s struggles during practice for the Bahrain Grand Prix are real and that their problems are “bigger than before”.
The Silver Arrows appeared to lack pace during both of Friday’s practice sessions in Sakhir, and were visibly struggling with the ‘porpoising’ issues – when the car bounces at high speed on the straights – that have affected some of the 2022 cars.
Hamilton, sporting a new ‘day-glo’ yellow helmet for this season as he returns to his original colour, could only set a time three quarters of a second off Pierre Gasly’s best for seventh in Free Practice 1, and ended the evening session in ninth, 1.208 seconds shy of his 2021 rival Max Verstappen’s leading time.
Interviewed after the second session, the seven-time world champion said that the problems afflicting his team are very real:
“We are not bluffing, as some may think. The problems are bigger than before. I think Red Bull is currently eight or nine tenths faster and Ferrari at least half a second.”
It was certainly an ominous first showing from the Red Bulls, Verstappen appearing quick every time he hit the track and seemingly comfortably clear of the pack during the race simulations.
Ferrari will also be pleased with their day’s work, Charles Leclerc keeping the reigning champion honest at the top of the timing sheets and Carlos Sainz making it a 2-3 for the Scuderia in both practice sessions.
Hamilton’s teammate George Russell fared a little better in the other Mercedes, finishing Free Practice 2 fourth but still six tenths behind Verstappen.
Whilst Mercedes have been accused of bluffing and/or sandbagging in previous years, only to miraculously find a chunk of time come the first qualifying session of the season, these driveability issues appear to be very real.
Hamilton was forced to abort two successive flying laps after failing to get his car to slow down sufficiently into Turn 1, later putting this down to a difference in front brake disc temperatures.
Russell believes the team is one second off the pace and will be competing with the likes of AlphaTauri and Alfa Romeo, whilst trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin’s assessment was not much more optimistic:
“We’re still struggling to get the rear of the car much lower, and trying to do that gave the drivers a fairly bumpy time of it in the second session.
“In terms of pace, we have a significant gap to Ferrari and Red Bull, especially Max on the long run.
“There are some relatively easy gains we might be able to make overnight with the balance but we’re not going to find more than a few tenths.”
Whilst the W13 appears to have untapped potential, for this weekend it looks set to be a case of damage limitation for the eight-time world champions.
Headline image credit: Motorsport Images.
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