Lewis Hamilton knew of ‘challenges’ facing him with W14 as soon as he drove it

Mercedes mechanics raise the W14's engine cover. Bahrain March 2023 Credit: Alamy
Mercedes mechanics raise the W14's engine cover. Bahrain March 2023 Credit: Alamy

Lewis Hamilton knew the moment he first drove the W14 the “challenge” Mercedes would be facing this season, but has backed his “multi-championship-winning team” to recover.

Having to deal with a bouncing W13 last season, Hamilton recorded his first win-less season in Formula 1 with the Briton hoping to bounce back this season.

That, though, may be more difficult than initially hoped as while this year’s car isn’t bouncing, it doesn’t have the pace of the Red Bull racer.

Mercedes will trial a new lower downforce wing at this weekend’s season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix with the goal of at least close the gap to Red Bull when it comes to straight-line speed.

That, according to the drivers in pre-season testing, is one of the W14’s biggest problems.

Hamilton, however, has backed his team to find performance gains.

“I knew from the moment I drove the car where we were and the challenge we’d be facing,” he told the media at the Sakhir circuit, including PlanetF1.com.

“On a positive note, not having the bouncing this year is a huge, huge plus. Trying to understand what the problems were while having bouncing really masked and made it difficult to figure out what those were.

“We don’t have that now so now we can just focus on pure performance. I’m encouraged to see the focus and courage of everyone in the team, just so focused on getting us back to the top.

“We’re not where we want to be to start the season, but this still is a multi-championship-winning team and group of people.”

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Expects a ‘very, very confident’ Verstappen

This season marks Hamilton’s second successive year lining up on the grid without the Drivers’ Championship title to his name.

The last time that happened was back in 2013 when Red Bull were on a rampage with Sebastian Vettel. Today they’re doing it with Max Verstappen.

Hamilton believes the Dutchman should be feeling “very, very confident” about retaining the title given Red Bull’s incredible form last season.

All their rivals can do, he says, is try to close the gap and apply some pressure.

“I think he will be very, very confident,” he said of the reigning World Champion.

“They developed an amazing car last year, they blew away the records won pretty much everything. I don’t think they were pushing at the end and were still way ahead.

“I don’t see that changing necessarily at the start of the season, so they can be quite relaxed probably.

“But hopefully those that are just behind will continue to apply pressure. I think Ferrari they’ve got a decent package, Aston has a decent package and we are hunting too.”

He added: “He’s a World Champion and so I wouldn’t question his determination and his focus.

“I think he will be just as focused as ever and it’s our job to catch up.”

Quashed suggestions of a ‘hold-up’ in contract talks

Having already called out Jenson Button and Damon Hill for weighing in on his contract negotiations with Mercedes, both past champions speculating as to a hold-up, Hamilton insists there isn’t one.

He just doesn’t feel as if he has to lock down his 2024 plans right this moment.

“There is no hold-up with our contract,” he revealed. “I’ve always been very, very relaxed and don’t feel like I need to get it done right this second.

“I have a great relationship with Toto [Wolff, team principal] and Mercedes and we fully support each other. I’m really excited about the future together and the work we’re doing on and off the track.

“We’ll get there unless something catastrophic happens… maybe me and Toto get into the ring.”

Additional reporting by Thomas Maher

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