Lewis Hamilton apologises to Mercedes after ‘weekend to forget’ in Imola

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Lewis Hamilton issued an apology to Mercedes following one of the worst races of his 16-season career.

The seven-time world champion finished 13th at Sunday’s wet-dry Emilia Romagna Grand Prix in Imola, a lap behind winner Max Verstappen, and nine places adrift of his team-mate George Russell.

Sergio Perez was second as Red Bull secured their first one-two finish in six years, while Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc came home sixth after he spun from third with just nine laps to run. Leclerc’s error allowed Lando Norris to snatch the final spot on the podium.

AUTO Emilia Romagna
PA graphic

Verstappen’s win – his second of the season – has breathed new life into this year’s championship battle. The Dutchman moves up to second in the standings, 27 points adrift of Leclerc.

But for Hamilton, the sport’s most decorated driver, he is now already 58 points off the pace with his hopes of a record eighth world championship over for this year, and possibly beyond.

“It’s been difficult, but I don’t really know what to say,” said the deflated 37-year-old. “It’s definitely not easy.

“At least George got some points today so my apologies to everyone that I wasn’t able to do the same.

“I am out of the championship, and there’s no question about that. It has been a weekend to forget.”

Indeed, it is difficult to recall a weekend where Hamilton has been so off the pace and so inferior to his team-mate.

He qualified and finished behind Russell’s in Saturday’s sprint, and then crossed the line an agonising one minute adrift of the other Mercedes in Sunday’s main event.

Despite making up a couple of places at the start, a cautious Hamilton declined the opportunity to switch to slick rubber when a dry line emerged.

Daniel Ricciardo was the first to take the gamble and – when the Australian started to light up the time charts – the rest of the pack followed suit.

Emilia Romagna Grand Prix
Red Bull drivers Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez celebrate their 1-2 finish in Imola (David Davies/PA)

Hamilton elected to stop too late. The British driver lost a place to Esteban Ocon in the pits and then, as he struggled to get his dry rubber up to speed, fell behind Alexander Albon and Pierre Gasly, who had stopped earlier.

Hamilton would spend the remaining 43 laps on Gasly’s AlphaTauri gearbox, and then suffered the indignity of being lapped by Verstappen at the start of lap 41.

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff moved to defend his superstar driver by blaming Hamilton’s machinery.

“Sorry for what you have had to drive today,” said the Austrian over the radio. “I know this is undrivable.”

But in the same car, Russell was fourth. The 24-year-old Briton has finished ahead of Hamilton in three of the four grands prix, and is 21 points ahead in the championship.

“Lewis deserves better from us, said Wolff. “We need to provide him with a machine that is able to fight at the front.

Lewis Hamilton
Lewis Hamilton finished 13th at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix (David Davies/PA)

“In a way, I have to protect him. It is not his low. It is the low of the car performance. We know that he is a seven-time world champion.

“The guy is the best driver in the world, and he does not have a machine and the equipment underneath him to be able to execute that.

“It is irrelevant if you come eighth, 12th, or 15th, it doesn’t matter. It is all bad.

“But the real stars have recovered, and the great ones that come to my mind had certain moments in their career where things didn’t run properly and that is the case now with Lewis.

“We have to sort this out and stick together through good and bad times, and today was certainly a very bad day.”

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