It was an all-encompassing cry of frustration from Lewis Hamilton’s cockpit. ‘You guys put me in a really difficult position,’ he protested as he finished the Australian Grand Prix fourth best.
Part of it expressed that his Mercedes team-mate George Russell had benefited from a ‘free’ pit-stop and so climbed the podium, in third place. Pride wounded. Perhaps, as Hamilton later tried to explain, an overheating car was another factor.
Certainly, ongoing frustration at the Silver Arrows’ blunted performance was a major stimulus. For the winner, Charles Leclerc —20 seconds clear of the rest in victory, 34 points ahead of his nearest and distant challenger Russell and 43 in front of Hamilton — was in a league of his own in the scarlet Ferrari.
Red Bull, too, were much faster. And if another apparent fuel problem had not robbed Max Verstappen of the second place his team-mate Sergio Perez inherited, Mercedes would have finished more where their pace suggested they ought.
Hamilton knew all this as the sun had gone down in Melbourne and the last of the biggest weekend crowd in Australian sporting history, 420,000, were tucking into home-bound trams. Looking drained, but still positive, he demanded improvements.
‘I will be making a lot of calls,’ he said. ‘I am flying to KL (Kuala Lumpur) tonight for a work event with Petronas. I will be on Zoom calls with sponsors and our bosses and really trying to rally them. We have got some improvements that we need to make and we need everyone’s support in doing so.
‘It is about making sure we leave no stone unturned, that the hunger is there and we are maximising every moment. On the Zoom calls, I will be chasing the people in the wind tunnel, the aero guys, just looking at every single area.
‘There is performance to be gained in all areas and we need it now, not in two or three races. I have to keep that encouragement and energy high. I will be going on the simulator.’
Both Mercedes men drove well. Hamilton, starting with alacrity, zipped through Lando Norris’s McLaren and Perez, moving from fifth to third. Russell also started well, gaining a place from sixth on the grid. Neither erred, even if Russell only passed his senior team-mate of 13 years in a fortuitously timed safety car deployed for Sebastian Vettel’s latest contribution to Aston Martin’s repair bill.
Russell has now beaten Hamilton twice in the three races this season, and if there was a slice of fortune on Sunday that was not the case a fortnight ago in Saudi Arabia. It has given the Norfolk-born driver the perfect confidence boost in his task of matching or bettering a seven-time world champion.
‘It is incredible how George has performed,’ said Hamilton. ‘He has done an amazing job, as he did today. He has been so solid these first three races and he is really grafting away.
‘I prefer to stay optimistic about the season ahead. There are 20 races to go and if you think realistically about the way our sport goes in terms of development, the top teams progress at a similar rate. Will that be the case with this new car, who knows? I am hoping we can get in the fight, but with every bit of improvement we make so will Red Bull and Ferrari improve. It is not going to be easy. The gap is pretty big right now, but there is a long way to go.’
Not that finding fixes is the sole preserve of Mercedes. While Leclerc took pole, led from lights to flag, set the fastest lap and won for the second time this season, his team-mate Carlos Sainz suffered a weekend to forget.
He qualified ninth, slipped back five places off the line, and then lost control on the second lap to find himself beached in the gravel. He needs a morale-boosting performance a week on Sunday in Imola to arrest what could turn into a psychological spiral.
And Red Bull’s problems also need addressing pronto after Verstappen stopped on lap 39 of 58 — an echo of the double retirements that blighted their opening race in Bahrain.
The Dutchman, who complained of a ‘weird’ smell of fluid, said: ‘We are already miles behind (46 points in his case). I don’t even want to think about the championship fight at the moment. It is more important to finish the race. We didn’t even do that, so it is frustrating. If you want to fight for the title, these things cannot happen.’
Enough of complaints. A final ‘bravo’ instead to Russell’s best pal, Alexander Albon, who was disqualified from qualifying for a fuel irregularity but finished a brilliant and strange 10th for Williams.
The British-Thai driver travelled all but one lap on a single set of hard tyres. Rules demand that drivers use a second and different compound. So he came in to be re-booted before holding off Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu to take the last, single point