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Formula 1

Hamilton makes 2024 plea as McLaren emphasises Mercedes' plight

by Jack Cozens
4 min read

Lewis Hamilton says the Mercedes Formula 1 team needs the "greatest six months of development" it has ever had if it is to compete with Red Bull in 2024.

Hamilton's comments come in the context of a Japanese Grand Prix weekend in which he was the lead Mercedes in qualifying but more than a second off Max Verstappen's polesitting Red Bull, after which he described the task of optimising Mercedes' W14 as "like trying to balance a knife on its tip".

The seven-time F1 champion finished the Suzuka race in fifth, 49s behind race winner Verstappen, whose 13th grand prix victory of the campaign helped Red Bull seal a second-successive constructors' title with six races to spare.

Having repeated his opinion that this year's Mercedes was "basically the exact same" as last year's in terms of feeling, Hamilton was asked how much he felt his comments about where the car could be improved were being taken on board and what Mercedes will require to have similar success to what Red Bull and Verstappen are enjoying next season.

"There are things that I've asked for, that we've gone... in part of the direction for next year," he told Sky Sports F1. "All the points that George and I give I think have been fully listened to.

"I have no idea where the car's going to be next year, but we're a long, long way away.

"We've got to hope for... the next six months has to be the greatest six months of development that we've ever, ever had to close that gap, to be really banging on the door."

But Hamilton said McLaren had set a precedent with its rate of development in 2023 - which has included moving closer to Red Bull's design philosophy - that meant such big strides in performance are possible.

McLaren started the campaign with the seventh-fastest car on average at the first five grands prix of the season - it was even slowest of all using the supertimes method at May's Miami GP - but major upgrade packages have hoisted it into the chasing pack behind Red Bull.

Its last major update of the season was introduced at last weekend's Singapore GP, where Lando Norris finished second, and McLaren followed that up with a best-of-the-rest performance at Suzuka as Norris took another runner-up finish and team-mate Oscar Piastri, equipped with the upgrade for the first time, backed that up with his first grand prix podium in third.

Hamilton indicated Mercedes making such a step would require it to fully invest in pursuing the type of concept pioneered by Red Bull from the start of the ground-effect ruleset in 2022.

"The evidence is there, at McLaren, and we can't turn a blind eye to that, we've got to look at what they've done and go in that direction," he said. "That is the direction.

"And I truly believe my team can do it. We've always been great at putting downforce on the car, it's just that with the way our car currently works, adding downforce doesn't work, it just makes it bounce more.

"Hopefully with the change of philosophy, we will be back to where the team deserves. Because this is a world championship team, we still are an amazing team and I have absolute faith in everyone.

"The decisions that are made in this period of time are critical for our trajectory."

Hamilton felt had he not incurred "a little bit of damage" to his front wing in contact with Sergio Perez at the start, which he felt also meant his wheels' corner weights were "a little bit out", he might have been able to finish fourth but conceded the Ferraris were "pretty quick".

Fourth and sixth for Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, either side of Hamilton, allowed Ferrari to reduce its deficit to Mercedes to 20 points in the fight for second in the constructors' standings.

"[I've been] fighting the car, fighting with absolutely everything I have to get as high up as possible and get ahead of Ferrari, which had an upgrade this week so they were particularly quick, or they have been quick the last three races, or quicker the last three races," he said.

"It was a hell of a fight. I scored the most points for the team, I really tried to hold on for the constructors' title, because I know how important it is for everyone in the background, back at the factories.

"I was giving it absolutely everything but it's tough on weekends like this, particularly when the car is such a handful and basically the exact same as last year. The car felt just the same as last year, bouncing and sliding.

"That's tough given how much work we've done to progress; we're not any closer to the front, at least here.

"But we did get ahead of one of the Ferraris which was great teamwork and great work from the guys in the pitstop and with strategy. Long way to go."

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