SAKHIR, BAHRAIN (AFP) – A downcast, but realistic Lewis Hamilton dismissed his hopes of winning tonight’s season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix after struggling to finish ninth in practice on Friday.
The seven-time world champion wound up 1.2 seconds adrift of world champion Max Verstappen who was fastest for Red Bull, confirming his new status after ending the Briton’s reign at last season’s finale in Abu Dhabi.
Ferrari endorsed pre-season suggestions that they have a vastly-improved car this year for the launch of a new ‘ground effect’ era with Charles Leclerc second ahead of Carlos Sainz.
”I’m just realistic and, at the moment, like I told you last week, we are not going to be in the race for a win,” said a downbeat Hamilton.
”If you look at the Red Bulls, they are a long, long way ahead, in the region of eight to nine tenths, and Ferrari are half a second to six tenths ahead. So we’re a long way off and we are not bluffing like people assumed we were.
”We have had small problems in the past, but we are faced with much, much bigger problems this year and everything we do to try and fix it doesn’t really change that.
”It appears as though this will be a long-term fix and not one for the short term, but our mindset is to be the best we can be – it’s not ideal, but we will pull together to try and fix it.”
Hamilton’s new Mercedes team-mate ex-Williams man and compatriot George Russell was fourth, but said his lap was a ‘one-off’ lap and not an indication of any hidden speed.
Like Hamilton, Russell battled with his car’s problem with ‘porpoising’ – a bouncing sensation that is caused by the unstable management of the aerodynamics of the new cars.
In effect, the cars seem to bounce on their suspension systems as the ‘sucking’ strength of the car changes at speeds of up to 300 kilometres per hour.
To make matters worse for Hamilton, entering his 15th season in F1, he was fined EUR50,000 (USD55,267) by the International Motoring Federation (FIA) for failing to attend last December’s prize-giving ceremony.
A statement said, ”In the spirit of commitment to building a more diverse sport in the future, the FIA President (Mohammed Ben Sulayem) gave his full support to Hamilton’s decision to make a donation of EUR50,000 that will be used to support a student from a disadvantaged background in achieving an educational qualification in motorsport.”