Lewis Hamilton is concerned Mercedes are still so far behind Red Bull in the second year of Formula 1’s current technical regulations.
The seven-times world champion said his team must focus on closing the gap to their rivals after he qualified over a second off Max Verstappen’s pace at Suzuka last weekend.
Red Bull have won all bar one of the 16 races so far this year. They clinched the constructors title in Japan and Verstappen is likely to claim the drivers’ championship for the third year in a row in the Sprint race ahead of the Qatar Grand Prix next week.
Hamilton said in Suzuka that Mercedes need to “realise that a second gap is huge and it’s real.”
“To be two years in and still be a second down compared to the Red Bulls, it’s showing that we need to make sure that we really do a good job over the winter to get back at least half that gap before next year,” he added.
Red Bull’s return to winning ways in Japan was predicted by Mercedes after their poor performance in Singapore. Mercedes famously also struggled at the street circuit during that otherwise dominant 2015 campaign.
Mercedes’ head of trackside engineering Andrew Shovlin said he wasn’t alarmed by the scale of Red Bull’s superiority at Suzuka due to the nature of its layout.
“I’m not surprised that they bounced back. We did that ourselves in Singapore. I’m sure theirs is for different reasons.
“It’s a big gap but this circuit’s one of those that, when the drivers are happy with the balance and when the car hooks up sector one, you can do some pretty stunning lap times. So yes, it’s a big gap but we’ll look at these things over a few tracks to try and understand the trends in terms of where everyone’s going on performance.”
Following Singapore “our internal messaging was ‘expect them to be back out front when we get back to Suzuka’,” Shovlin added. “So that’s certainly not come as any surprise to the team. Apart from Singapore, they’ve got a car that works everywhere.”
The progress McLaren have made with their car in recent races, demonstrated by Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri appearing in the top three at Suzuka, had also caught Shovlin’s eye.
“That McLaren update, if it’s more of what they did back in Austria-Silverstone time, that may not have been that spectacular in Singapore, you’re actually seeing what it can do [at Suzuka]. I think that’s probably the bigger thing, in terms of where they are in car performance.”
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