Red Bull may already be too far in front two races in, says Lewis Hamilton

Mercedes driver has no plans to speak to controversial former FIA race director Michael Masi at this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton has conceded it may take Mercedes the entirety of the 2023 Formula One season to close the gap to front-runners Red Bull, all but writing off his team’s chances of even competing for a win.

The seven-time champion was blunt in admitting how far off the pace his team are and, despite an expected change in the design of the Mercedes car, did not anticipate catching Red Bull.

Hamilton was speaking before this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, where another difficult weekend looks to be in storeafter Mercedes struggled in the opening two rounds of the season in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. The British driver managed only fifth in both meetings, which were won by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Sergio Pérez respectively.

While Red Bull have brought a car that is an improved evolution of last year’s title-winning ride, Mercedes’ decision to stick with their design concept which was so problematic last year has proved to be a serious miscalculation. They remain behind Red Bull and Ferrari and have been overtaken by a resurgent Aston Martin, who have notably followed Red Bull’s design lead.


The Mercedes team principal, Toto Wolff, has already acknowledged that his team are to adapt their design philosophy immediately and are likely to attempt to mirror the strengths of the Red Bull, which is currently up to six-tenths of a second a lap quicker than Mercedes. However there will be no quick route to achieve this nor will it be straightforward, as Hamilton confirmed in Melbourne.

“It is going to take us the rest of the year to potentially close that gap,” he said. “If you look at the Red Bull it is just going to continue to evolve most likely. Some cars do plateau in terms of performance. At some point it can’t just keep going but maybe it can. They have a great team around them and I am sure they will continue to add downforce.

“We just have to make sure when we do make the change hopefully the drop isn’t too far and hopefully it is going to take us the rest of the year for sure to potentially close that gap.”

Mercedes upgrades are expected at the next round in Azerbaijan at the end of April but the major changes instigated by adopting a new approach are not expected to be in play until the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola in May. When they are employed the team will effectively be starting from a new baseline in learning about how the car performs. They have been adept in aggressively developing their car in the past, however, and Hamilton remained optimistic that at least his team had acknowledged their failings.

“There is a part of me that is just hopeful we find the trick and are straight on to the right track that is not far away from the others,” he said. “We have shown in the past that we can develop quickly and hope that is the case as the potential of the car opens up. I am grateful they are open to making a shift and not being stuck with what we have and I am aware it could take a long time.”

Hamilton was also unequivocal in Melbourne that he would not be speaking to the former FIA race director Michael Masi, after he played a pivotal role in controversially denying the British driver an eighth title at the season decider in Abu Dhabi in 2021.

Melbourne is Masi’s first return to the paddock since the incident in which he improvised around the safety car rules during the final laps at Abu Dhabi, which effectively gave Max Verstappen an advantage that he converted into victory and the title. The FIA concluded a human error had been made and Masi was removed from his post, however the result stood.

This is believed to be the first time Masi and Hamilton have been in the same place since then. However Hamilton was clear he had no intention of speaking to Masi to request an explanation of his actions. “I don’t. I am just focused on my future,” he said. “I am focused on trying to get back to winning. There is nothing to say.”

He did, however, offer emphatic praise to the Brazilian government after they pursued the former three-times world champion Nelson Piquet and held him to account for making racist and homophobic remarks about the British driver in 2021. Last week a Brazilian court ordered Piquet to pay a £780,000 (€884,000) fine for his comments, which Hamilton, who was made an honorary citizen of Brazil last year, applauded.

“It is pretty amazing what they have done, holding someone to account,” he said. “Showing people it is not tolerated and that racism and homophobia is not acceptable and that there is no place for it within our society. I love they have shown that they stand for something, and I wish that more governments out there would do that.”