Lewis Hamilton says Mercedes needs “the greatest six months of development” the team has ever had to challenge Red Bull in 2024.
Mercedes expected to return to title contention after struggling during the first year under the current technical regulations in 2022, only recording a solitary victory.
However, the side has yet to win this season and ended qualifying in Suzuka last weekend a second behind Max Verstappen’s Red Bull, who have won 15 of the 16 races this year.
The crushing margin represented Mercedes’ biggest deficit to pole position this entire campaign, leaving Hamilton doubtful that the German marque can get on level terms with Red Bull by the start of next season.
“We’re one second away. It’s like, crazy,” he lamented after qualifying in Japan.
“To close that gap before next year, at this point to still be a second down on a track like this is definitely worrying for us as a team.”
Hamilton had been encountering trouble with Mercedes’ W14 car throughout Friday, ending both practice sessions outside of the top 10.
Despite recovering to beat team-mate George Russell by three-tenths in qualifying, Hamilton was fixated on the abundance of time Mercedes spurned through the sequence of high-speed turns in sector one.
The seven-time World Champion believes Mercedes’ problems are rooted in its current concept, adding that the Brackley-based camp must ensure it avoids being stifled by the same philosophy problems next year.
“In qualifying I was giving it everything but that seven-tenths deficit that we have in sector one is all rear end,” he added via Sky Sports F1. “Our car has loads of load on the front and not as much as we need on the rear. And so we’re a long way down on that.
“For me, that’s clearly concept. For me it’s 100% clear that it’s concept and we’ve got to make sure we change that for next year, which hopefully we will.
“There’s a steep gap that we have to close for next year, but you’ve seen what the Astons did coming into this year, so they can make big steps.
“We’ve seen what the McLaren have done this year by going down the Red Bull route they’re now ahead of us here on a track like this.”
Hamilton adds that McLaren’s exploits since reverting to the Red Bull concept demonstrate that Mercedes will have to converge down that route in 2024.
The Briton, who penned a two-year extension earlier this month, insists he still retains complete confidence that Mercedes can mount a recovery to the top of the order.
“There are things that I’ve asked for that we’ve gone in a direction, part of the direction for next year,” he responded when asked about his input to next year’s Mercedes car. “I think all the points that George and I give have been fully listened to.
“I have no idea where the car is going to be next year. But we are a long, long way away.
“We’ve got to hope the next sixth months has to be the greatest six months of development that we’ve ever had just to close that gap, to be really banging on the door.
“But the evidence is there with the McLarens, and we can’t turn a blind eye to that, we’ve got to look at what they’ve done and go in that direction, that is the direction. But I truly believe my team can do it.
“We’ve always been great at putting downforce on the car. It’s just that, with the way our car currently works, adding downforce doesn’t work – it just makes it bounce more. Hopefully with the change in philosophy we will be back to where the team deserve.
“This is a World Championship team; we still are an amazing team. I have absolute faith in everyone but decisions that are made in this period of time are critical to our trajectory.”