Seven-time world champion, Lewis Hamilton, says his podium at the Canadian Grand Prix has given him hope that Mercedes can return to competitiveness this year.
Hamilton had not scored a podium since the first race of the season and his result in Montreal ended a run of difficult races.
“It has given me a lot of hope there is more to come from this car, that the potential is truly there if we can get the set-up right,” Hamilton said.
Before Montreal, Hamilton had been out-qualified by team-mate George Russell for three consecutive races and had not finished ahead of him since the first race of the season in Bahrain.
Partly, that has been due to Russell’s own highly impressive form this season. It remains an open question as to who will ultimately prove the faster, and there can be no higher compliment for Russell than that.
But there have also been bad luck and awkward circumstances for which Hamilton cannot be blamed. And at the same time, the team’s more experienced driver has been taking on what has been more often than not the less effective choice out of a series of set-up gambles by Mercedes as they seek to get on top of their recalcitrant car.
After expressing how “so, so happy” he was to finally have a good weekend, Hamilton half-joked that “maybe the second half of the season George can do the experiments”.
More seriously, he said he thought that it was time for the team to not take matters quite so far as they seek to edge towards Red Bull and Ferrari on performance.
“We are just trying to progress as a team,” Hamilton said. “Moving forwards, we will be a little more cautious on doing too many experiments as it does hinder you through the weekend, especially if you only have first and second practice in the dry.
“There are lots of learnings from this weekend and improvements we can make going forwards but great pace today. It is so nice to see. That has not always been the case with this car.”
Hamilton finished only seven seconds behind race-winner Max Verstappen, as the Red Bull driver held off a late charge from Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, and there were times during the race when he was matching the leaders’ lap times. But it is important to keep this in context.
The race was neutralised by a safety car with 20 laps to go and resumed with only 16 laps. Hamilton lost that margin in those laps, despite entering them hoping he could “just about keep up with them”.
As such, Canada did not mark a significant step forwards for Mercedes on performance. The car remained where it has been all year, about 0.8secs a lap slower than the Red Bull and Ferrari. It just showed better tyre degradation than them – so it moved towards them on pace as the stints developed.
Team principal Toto Wolff said: “One swallow doesn’t make a summer. We saw the swallow also in Barcelona [in May] but somehow it flew somewhere else.
“We were off the pace on Friday and we were good in the wet [in qualifying], respectable. Today at times we were with the quickest cars. In the second stint, Lewis and George were almost matching the front-runners on some laps.
“But we just need to be careful, there is so much work we need to do to be back at the front and we are not yet there.
“We have scored four to five podiums and we are seeing glimpses of performance but it is far away from our expectations of ourselves. You need to see a podium as a good result on merit and I’m happy for Lewis because he was disadvantaged in some of the races where the safety car went against him. But still a lot of work to do.”
Mercedes feel they have dispensed with the aerodynamic porpoising problem that afflicted them in the early race of the season, but is still suffering from another key issue – bouncing caused by a very stiff suspension set-up.
They made progress in Canada by raising the car and running the suspension softer, but what succeeded in improving the car’s ride did not improve its performance.
This is a vicious circle that Mercedes does not yet know how to find a way out of. They expect to be more competitive at the next race, the British Grand Prix because the long, fast corners and smooth track surface will suit their car.
But they do not have a key that will make the car as fast as a Red Bull or Ferrari. And until they find one, Hamilton’s hopes of improved performance will remain just that.
“We should manage our expectations,” Wolff said, “and just grind away and look at the data and come up with some sensible solutions.
“We just need to get more load in the car, more downforce, and do that with a car that is not as low on the ground as we have expected. It is a clear direction. You can see cars are going higher and this is where we need to find the performance.”