Lewis Hamilton has admitted he’s been operating below his usual competitive standard for “over a year” despite taking his first pole position since 2021 at the Hungarian Grand Prix.
Hamilton is in the thick of an unprecedented career dry spell, with the 2022 season the first of his career to pass without a win or a pole position.
He broke the pole drought in Budapest, but his next victory appears further away than ever after finishing 40 seconds off the lead in fourth place.
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The Briton’s last win remains the 2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, which drew him level on points with Max Verstappen before their controversial championship showdown in Abu Dhabi.
The regulations changed the following season, and though the Mercedes team has struggled to develop a consistently quick car ever since, Hamilton has shouldered some of the blame for his lack of results, admitting that he’s been performing at less than his full potential.
“I haven’t been at my best for over a year,” he said on Sunday night in Budapest. “I think yesterday felt like I was me being back to my best.
“I’m really proud of myself and the job that we did yesterday to get pole position, to outperform the world champion and the other two cars that are quicker than us.”
But the Briton said it was clear his car had problems that needed addressing if he is to get back to his usually high standard of performance.
“It’s obvious that we’re not the quickest,” he said. “We don’t have the quickest car.
“Today it’s just reality. The reality is we’re not fast enough.”
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Speaking earlier in the weekend, Hamilton said the team was still figuring out the best way to tackle the new rules given the different ways this and the previous generation of cars generate downforce.
“The thing we can’t see is the airflow throughout the car,” he said, per Autosport. “That is just limited when you look in the wind tunnel because there’s only a certain amount you can move the car.
“There are simulations with the new rules that we have and all the new tools we have had to create and understand the flow structures underneath the car.
“All those vortices would blow your mind if you saw what’s happening underneath the car, which is a lot different to the previous generations of cars. Working through that just takes time.
“And obviously you’re very limited with resources as well, so you have to be careful which decisions you make.
“If you go full steam ahead in one direction, you could lose weeks of development and it could be tenths of performance, so you have to be very methodical in the way they go through that process. I wish it was faster, but unfortunately it is not.”
Trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin said simulating car performance across different ride heights was the biggest sticking point.
“With the old regulations, which we had a good grasp on, you didn’t need to consider the car in the same dynamic sense,” he said. “You were just saying it’s at a certain roll angle, steer angle, certain ride heights, and in doing that you could capture what was going on.
“The flow structures under our car, under every car, are more complicated now and they’re more transient.
“What Lewis was referring to was really the fact that, as other teams will have had to develop their tools to cope with this new set of aero regulations, we’re getting to a stage where the correlation is good, we can start to understand the effect of changes, but we’re not at the position we were with the regulations in 2020–21 where you had a really, really good grasp of everything that was going on.”
Ricciardo buoyant after first race back | 01:18
CONTRACT STILL UNSIGNED BUT ‘VERY, VERY CLOSE’
Mercedes’s struggles come against the backdrop of protracted contract negotiations to keep Hamilton at the team beyond the end of the season.
Both Hamilton and team principal Toto Wolff have publicly stated their intention to extend their title-winning partnership, but proclamations a new deal was “days, not weeks” away at the Spanish Grand Prix at the first weekend of June have so far come to nothing.
“It’s very, very close,” Hamilton said at the Hungarian Grand Prix, per the Sun.
“Honestly, I just don’t have any more information for you to share this week. It continues to be with the lawyers, back and forth on things.
“I’ve not been a part of it the whole time. I’ve been removed from it from the beginning.
“I’ve been wanting to focus on all the other things I have going on. The team has been working on it in the background.
“There’s no negotiation left. It’s just all the small bits.”
Speaking to Sky Sports, Wolff said he considered the deal all but concluded.
“The state is we haven’t signed it but emotionally we have done it,” he said.
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