The chance that Lewis Hamilton will win an eighth world championship with Blackpool Tower Circus is greater than with Mercedes.
Not just my opinion, but a reflection of the mood of the man himself after a Brazilian Grand Prix as abnormal as any day during the two years of serial non-performance of the tarnished Silver Arrows.
Hamilton has laid out what any idiot can see, namely that there is no prospect of his team ending their misery this year or next year, or perhaps the year after. What that means for his title dream is clear. He is 38 and has two seasons left on his new contract.
“Red Bull is so far away, that will probably become very clear in the coming years,” Hamilton said after Red Bull’s unstoppable Max Verstappen clinically led McLaren’s Lando Norris and Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso home.
This is it for Mercedes for the foreseeable future, and you wonder if Toto Wolff is a team boss who can turn the tide. He lives in Monaco while the factory is in Brackley, Northamptonshire – an emblem of his detachment.
Lewis Hamilton seems further away than ever after an embarrassing race during the Brazilian GP
He said Max Verstappen’s Red Bull will be dominant in the sport ‘in the coming years’
Questions are being asked whether Toto Wolff is a team boss who can turn the tide
The history of Formula 1 suggests that day in and day out the boss must be the first in and the last out.
The 51-year-old Wolff hardly returns to the Riviera this time. Like a stuck record, he promised fundamental changes in the car concept over the winter. “An unforgivable achievement,” he admitted. ‘The car drove almost as if it were on three wheels and not four. My worst weekend in thirteen years.’
The damning evidence began to pile up during Saturday’s sprint of just 24 laps, with George Russell finishing 26 seconds behind and Lewis Hamilton 35 seconds. This is light years in a sport of thousandths. And the Grand Prix itself, over 71 laps, was even worse because it was a longer suffering.
Hamilton finished eighth, 1min 3sec behind. Russell retired with rising oil temperature while running in 11th place – engine failure, in plain English.
Even Pierre Gasly’s Alpine beat them. And Hamilton would probably have been even further adrift if Charles Leclerc had not escaped with a hydraulic failure during the formation lap. (Ferrari is also a basket case, and Leclerc complained about his “damn bad luck” and said he had to visit Lourdes.)
Hamilton (right) finished over a minute behind Verstappen on Sunday, while teammate George Russell (left) retired with an engine failure
The two spent much of the race competing against each other, sometimes wondering what the plan was
Hamilton would have finished further back had Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc (pictured above) not crashed on the formation lap
But the Mercedes malaise under Wolff runs deep at technical and leadership level. This weekend’s setback comes after a critically acclaimed new floor was introduced in Austin two weeks ago.
That took Hamilton to a seemingly impressive second place before it turned out that the underside of his machine was illegal.
Since coming into compliance it has never worked so well. (He was 14 seconds shy last week despite finishing second). And on Sunday night, Hamilton suggested the floor is the problem. That is clearly so. This generation of cars is all about controlling the vortices below. Mercedes has not yet cracked it and does not seem to be getting any closer.
The two Mercedes drivers were like rats in sacks as the race unfolded. Russell felt like he was being held up by Hamilton. “Do we work together or do we just do our own race?” he asked.
Then: “Do you want me to have to give up race or position?” And after being passed by Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, he added sarcastically: ‘I didn’t go on the radio because I thought it was quite clear about the pace. I just sat there, behind the tires.’
Russell expressed his frustrations about his car and the race on team radio a number of times
Mercedes’ direction, after apparently finding improvements, but for an illegal floor, is unclear
That was code for being stuck behind Hamilton, who was overtaken by Red Bull’s Sergio Perez, Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll and Gasly on an afternoon as embarrassing as any in his long career.
There was a feeling of disarray. “We should have gone to the hard tyres, man,” Hamilton complained. And following AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda, who had yet to retire, he said, “I’m in his DRS and I still can’t catch him.”
This at the Interlagos circuit where he was in the spotlight all weekend. Hamilton is an honorary citizen of Brazil and waved the national flag as he drove around the track during the pre-race rituals. Every time his face appeared on the big screens, he was cheered to the rafters.
But the mood after the race at Mercedes was grave. A somber debriefing was underway. Can anyone find a road map?