|Date: Friday 31 March-Sunday 2 April Venue: Albert Park, Melbourne|
|Coverage: Live radio commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Radio 5 Sports Extra and BBC Sounds, plus text commentary, news, reports and analysis on BBC Sport website & app|
Lewis Hamilton says “it could take a long time” before Mercedes can compete again with Red Bull.
Mercedes have started a process of redesigning their car having started a second consecutive season off the pace.
But the seven-time champion said: “It is going to take us the rest of the year to potentially close that gap.”
His team-mate George Russell added: “I am not going to say we are terribly optimistic. We recognise Red Bull are a second down the road at the moment.”
Red Bull have dominated the start of the season, taking two one-two finishes in the first two races, and are clear favourites again at this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.
Briton Hamilton said: “If you look at the Red Bull, it is just going to continue to evolve most likely.
“Some cars do plateau in terms of performance. At some point it can’t just keep going. But maybe it can.
“They have a great team around them and I am sure they will continue to add downforce.
“We just have to make sure when we do make the change hopefully the drop isn’t too far and hopefully it is going to take us the rest of the year for sure to potentially close that gap.”
Where Hamilton is struggling
Hamilton opened up on his struggles with the Mercedes car and how he feels uncomfortable with the positioning of the cockpit.
He said: “I don’t know if people know, but we sit closer to the front wheels than all the other drivers. Our cockpit is too close to the front.
“When you’re driving, you feel like you’re sitting on the front wheels, which is one of the worst feelings to feel when you’re driving a car.
“If you were driving your car at home and you pulled the wheels right underneath your legs, you would not be happy when you’re approaching the roundabout.
“What that does is it really changes the attitude of the car and how you perceive its movement. And it makes it harder to predict compared to when you’re further back and sitting more centred. It is just something I have really struggled with.”
The 38-year-old also expanded on comments he made after the first race of the season in which he said the engineers “didn’t listen” to him with regard to the design of this year’s car.
“I listened to the team and that was the direction they said we should go,” he said. “Had I known the feeling I would have in it, it wouldn’t have happened. And it has to change for the future – 100%.”
He added that a characteristic referred to in F1 as the “aero balance” – a reference to the centre of aerodynamic pressure and how it affects the car’s behaviour changes through the stages of cornering – was “just too far forwards”.
“We have a car that is very forward, very much on the nose early on, and then shifts later on,” Hamilton said.
But he expressed his belief that Mercedes would get back into competitive shape eventually.
The first significant design changes to the Mercedes car are due for the race after Australia, in Azerbaijan at the end of April.
However, these were planned before Mercedes made the decision during the first race weekend of the season that they had to change the design philosophy of the car because the gap to Red Bull made them realise they were on the wrong track.
“There is a part of me that is just hopeful we find the trick and are straight on to the right track that is not far away from the others,” Hamilton said.
“We have shown in the past that we can develop quickly and hope that is the case that as the potential of the car opens up, we will full steam ahead in that direction. I am grateful they are open to making a shift and not being stuck with what we have and I am aware it could take a long time.”
Russell added: “It caught us by surprise to see the lack of performance when we hit the track in Bahrain and that’s why we were quick to change our approach.”
Hamilton not interested in Masi meeting
Australia marks the first race at which former FIA race director Michael Masi has been back in the paddock since his controversial officiating at the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Hamilton lost a record-breaking eighth world title as a direct consequence of decisions Masi made when he failed to apply the rules correctly during a late safety-car period at Yas Marina.
These led to Hamilton being passed by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen on the one remaining lap after a restart and the title changing hands from the Briton to the Dutchman.
A subsequent FIA inquiry blamed “human error” for Masi’s choices in two different aspects of the rules – the timing of the restart and the number of cars allowed to unlap themselves.
Masi, who is in Melbourne in his new role as a senior official of the Australian Supercars series, which is a support race at the grand prix, was seen embracing Red Bull sporting director Jonathan Wheatley in the F1 paddock.
Hamilton was asked whether he had any desire to talk to Masi, and replied: “I am just focused on my future and trying to get back to winning.
“Nothing to say.”
Backing Brazil over Piquet
Hamilton also expressed his support for the decision of Brazilian authorities to fine three-time champion Nelson Piquet for making racist comments about him.
Hamilton said: “I still believe we generally shouldn’t be giving people who are generally full of hate a platform.
“I would like to acknowledge the Brazil government. It is pretty amazing what they have done holding someone accountable, showing that it is not tolerated.
“Racism and homophobia is not acceptable and there is no place for it in our society. I love they have shown they stand for something. I wish more governments out there would do that.”