Sky Sports F1 pundit Naomi Schiff believes Mercedes’ early 2023 troubles mean time is running out for Lewis Hamilton to take an eighth Formula 1 World Championship.
Hamilton won six of the seven Drivers’ titles available between 2014 and ’20 as Mercedes dominated the beginning of the V6 turbo-hybrid engine era.
The British driver’s seventh championship triumph drew him level with Michael Schumacher for the most in F1 history.
After being denied setting the outright record in 2021 by a controversial finale in Abu Dhabi, an uncompetitive car for 2022 ruled Hamilton out of contention.
The German team’s hopes of returning to the top in 2023 were dealt a huge blow at the first race, with Hamilton ending up down in fifth and 50.9s behind race winner Max Verstappen.
Schiff has asserted that seeing his chances of achieving that record-breaking milestone dashed again will be tough to take mentally for Hamilton.
“For him I guess it was the moment that confirmed that really they [Mercedes] were still really much on the back foot and hadn’t made much or any progress in the winter period,” Schiff said of the Bahrain Grand Prix on the latest edition of the Sky Sports F1 podcast.
“That for them is probably what is so hard to digest at this point.
“Lewis obviously, and he mentioned it in the Sky Sports exclusive with Simon Lazenby and his lie detector test, is here for his eighth title. He’s waiting and going to stay for it.
“But for him to be in this position, is not putting him in any sort of position to get that eighth title.”
Despite a troublesome previous campaign, Mercedes opted to retain faith in its zero sidepod interpretation of the latest technical regulations.
Although Hamilton went winless for the first time in his entire F1 career last year, George Russell led a Mercedes 1-2 at the penultimate round in Brazil to provide optimism for its 2023 chances.
However, the Silver Arrows failed to make the step anticipated, even dropping behind Aston Martin to end up possessing the fourth-fastest package in Bahrain.
While Schiff is confident both drivers will be pushing the team internally, she maintains that Mercedes’ current predicament will be harder to accept for Hamilton due to his age.
“I’m sure there’s a lot of pressure internally, from both drivers, but I guess even more so from Lewis because he’s not getting any younger,” she argued.
“He’s obviously got Fernando [Alonso] to look up to in terms of how far you can go. But time is of the essence.
“They [Mercedes] spent an entire season struggling and being unhappy with where they were at with the car.
“So to have had this whole winter period and come back even a step backwards from where they were at the last race last season, that is what is so tough to accept. Especially when your customer team [Aston Martin] has managed to smash it.”
Aston Martin emerged as the surprise package at the opening round; Alonso out-qualified and out-raced both Mercedes drivers on his way to a podium finish.
With Mercedes being trumped by one of its engine customers, Red Bull Motorsport Director Helmut Marko has already ruled it out of title contention.
The reigning World Champions fared much better, however, dominating the race in Bahrain as Verstappen led Sergio Perez home for a comfortable 1-2.
Verstappen is aiming to become only the sixth driver in F1 history this year to win three consecutive Drivers’ titles.
Hamilton has since said he doesn’t expect his former title rival to slip up this season, also claiming it is on Mercedes to catch Red Bull up to challenge him.
“I think he will be very, very confident,” the Brit said via RaceFans.net.
“I think they [Red Bull] developed an amazing car last year, they blew away all the records on pretty much everything and I don’t think they were pushing at the end and still were way ahead.
“I don’t think he’ll [Verstappen] slip up. He’s a World Champion and so I wouldn’t question his determination or his focus. I think he will be focused as ever, and it’s our job to catch up.”