Seven-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton has painted a particularly bleak picture about where his Mercedes team stands, ahead of the second race of the season. Hamilton could only watch in disappointment as Red Bull dominated the season-opener in Bahrain two weeks ago, with defending world champion Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez combining for a one-two finish.
Fernando Alonso grabbed a podium place with a surprising third-placed finish for Aston Martin, while Carlos Sainz was fourth best in his Ferrari. Hamilton and his Mercedes teammate George Russell finished fifth and seventh respectively, but the seven-time world champion admits they are way behind their main rivals at the start of the season.
'NOT THERE': Devastating detail emerges about Michael Schumacher
So worrying is the predicament for Hamilton, that the British driver insists it would take six drivers across three different teams to drop out of a race, just to give him a chance of winning. Red Bull remains the team to beat, with Ferrari doing its best to close the gap. However, Hamilton has made the staggering admission that Mercedes may have being overtaken on the pecking order by Aston Martin in 2023.
"We're not fighting for a (title). We need the Red Bulls not to finish the race, and the Ferraris not to finish the race and maybe now the Astons not to finish the race, for us to be winning at the moment," Hamilton said ahead of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. "None of us at this team have ever shied away from a challenge. We would much prefer to be at the front, but it isn't the way it is."
Hamilton failed to win a race for the first time in his career in 2022, as Mercedes struggled with the aerodynamics changes introduced by the F1 and the resultant porpoising issues the British-based team encountered as a result. The 38-year-old pulled no punches after this year's opening race, offering a scathing assessment of the team in an interview with the BBC.
"I've driven so many cars in my life. I know what a car needs. I know what a car doesn't need. I think it's really about accountability," Hamilton told Radio 5 Live's Chequered Flag podcast. "It's about owning up and saying, 'Yeah, you know what? We didn't listen to you. It's not where it needs to be and we've got to work.'"
Lewis Hamilton clarifies brutal Mercedes criticism
The Brit - who shares the record with F1 great Michael Schumacher of seven world championships - admits his criticism of the team was clumsy. However, Hamilton insists it is not an indication that he's thinking about leaving Mercedes anytime soon.
"In hindsight, it probably wasn't the best choice of words," said Hamilton, referring to his complaint that the team had not listened to him when reviewing their performance and car last year, when they won only one race. "But no...There are, of course, times where you are not in agreement with certain team members, but what's important is that we continue to communicate, we continue to pull together.
"I still have 100 per cent belief in this team. It is my family and I have been here a long time, so I don't plan on going anywhere else. But we all need a kick. We all need to get on. And the proof is in the pudding.
"We have seen where the performance is and how people are extracting the performance and we have got to now start making some bold decisions, some big moves, in order to close the gap to these guys."
Hamilton concedes it's almost a forgone conclusion that Red Bull will again win the constructors' championship, after suggesting their crushing victory in Bahrain came with plenty still left in the tank. "I think in the race they weren't pushing and I think they were a lot quicker than they even seemed. We have them as a second-and-half faster in the race per lap," Hamilton added. "But I have 100 per cent confidence in everyone. You don't all of a sudden lose the ability to build great cars, it's just we're not near where we need to be and where we want to be."
Click here to sign up to our newsletter for all the latest and breaking stories from Australia and around the world.