Lewis Hamilton claims that Mercedes is surprised to currently be sat second in the Constructors’ Championship after the sluggish start it made to the 2023 season.
After only picking up a solitary win and slumping to third in the standings upon the overhaul to the technical regulations last season, Mercedes were aiming to bounce back into title contention this year.
However, the German marque endured an arduous start to the campaign, prompting Team Principal Toto Wolff to declare it would be abandoning its revolutionary zero sidepod concept following the opening race.
Since introducing a revised car in Monaco, Hamilton has recorded five top-four finishes across the previous seven races to help Mercedes hold a comfortable 51-point buffer over third-placed Aston Martin.
When asked what his expectations were coming into this year, Hamilton said ahead of last weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix: “To be fighting for a World Championship. That’s always the expectation… No, it was just to be in a much better position than we were last year and I think that wasn’t the case.
“With all the amazing work that goes on through winter, we kind of started further behind and so it’s been a big, steep, uphill climb.
“But really proud of the team,” he continued. “We’re fighting for second in the Constructors’ Championship which is definitely something we didn’t expect after what we felt at the first test and that’s really down to the great teamwork that’s happening in the background.”
With new team-mate George Russell being responsible for picking up Mercedes’ only pole position and race victory of 2022, last season marked the first occasion in his F1 career that Hamilton had failed to land top spot in either qualifying or a race.
But in Hungary the Brit landed his first pole position since December 2021, edging out Red Bull’s Max Verstappen by just 0.003s.
Although he lost out at the start to Verstappen and eventually trailed home fourth, Hamilton says Mercedes took positives away from the Hungaroring.
“I think it leaves us optimistic, he said regarding Mercedes’ showing in Hungary. “I think it was amazing to have that experience on Saturday.
“It shows that there’s potential in the car and everyone’s working incredibly hard to bring performance.
“And I think our race pace was very good, we just have to work on what was… we’ve understood what the issue was at the beginning and we’ve got some upgrades here this weekend. The weather’s going to be interesting.”
Aside from Mercedes’ W14 upholding a clear performance deficit at the beginning of the year, Hamilton was also troubled by the balance of the car underneath him.
While the seven-time World Champion has been more comfortable since the addition of upgrades, he admits that Mercedes still has ground to make up.
“Well, as a driver you’re constantly battling the inconsistencies with balance but we are flat-out trying to improve,” he said.
“Just as Kevin [Magnussen] says, we’re working a lot to analyse where we are and what we can do to try and make those big steps that some of the others potentially have, like McLaren and Red Bull often make so hopeful and I have all the faith in the world that we will eventually get there too.”