Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes, the politics of small steps

Lewis Hamilton will start on the second row on Sunday. CHRISTOPHE SIMON / AFP

Fourth in qualifying for the French Grand Prix, Hamilton was very pleased with this result. If Mercedes are still far from Ferrari and Red Bull, the Briton does not admit defeat.

In Le Castellet,

“The best of the rest.” The best of the rest of the board. Formerly far from this type of consideration, reserved for a decade to Ferrari, McLaren or Alpine drivers, this qualification has been suitable for a few weeks now for Sir Lewis Hamilton himself. “It’s my pole position, it’s that of the rest of the grid., has philosophized the British pilot, already showered when responding to the media after qualifying on Saturday afternoon. And for good reason, the Q3 podium has three times as many media obligations to fulfill. And Hamilton is not P1, but P4.

Somehow we can’t do better, they are beyond our reachThe seven-time world champion agreed, who will therefore start on the second row of the French Grand Prix this Sunday (15:00), his 300th career. They are the Ferraris and the Red Bulls, more supersonic than they thought. His very respectable last round of ‘ranking’ confirmed the trend: “You feel like you’re doing a great trick and then you realize you’re relegated to more than a second», analyzes Hamilton, whose wide eyes reflect surprise.

The surprise effect, however, has lived on since the start of the season, with the two aforementioned teams crushing the competition like LH44 and Mercedes in the hybrid era. Except that behind, the German team lost its focus on the future. Some were talking about the bluff after the failed winter tests, but Mercedes did not assimilate the new regulations well. Halfway through (11 of 22 races), Toto Wolff confirms the pain: “In Formula 1, the clock never lies and today it says we are not fast. That’s right, we’re stuck mechanically, we’re stuck aerodynamically, it’s never one thing, it’s a combination.”

“We’ve taken another step forward”

But the Silver Arrows are still a (very) solid third force on the board (3e constructors 67 points from Ferrari). Thanks to the talent and consistency of its pilots, among them George Russell, literally nicknamed Mr consistency (Mister Regularity) for his first 10 5 in 11 races (one retirement). A sign of a stable far from being stagnant, in any case less and less. Smiling at Le Castellet, where there will have been more celebrations than boos, Hamilton seems to have been affected by the optimism of his new Mercedes neighbor. “Everyone works so hard in the factory that we have taken it a step further here“, assures the interested person with elements of the language that have been alien to him for some time.

Policy of small steps. And he is making progress, as evidenced by a gap between his Mercedes and Leclerc’s Ferrari, not beyond second but a little below (9 tenths). What was not the same as the initial idea:Coming into this weekend, I expected to find myself within 3 tenths. The next one I hope to get close to 2 tenths and so on so I can play for the win again…“, admits the interested party. It will be expected:They fight in a different category, you understand that you can’t do much more. You can change some things, but sometimes absolutely nothing changes. Sometimes it’s hard to accept.”

Quiet and peaceful

However, the Stevenage native is starting to take it more easily. Force of habit? The most positive sequence of recent races? On the podium of the last three rounds of the championship, third each time (Canada, Great Britain, Austria), the number 44 has found the hair of the beast. A wounded beast, irritated but certainly appeased. Mostly professionals. “I am not surprised, even more his professionalism in data analysis, sessions, of course, lucid, transparent, calm. The harder it is, the calmer it is. That’s impressive, even for a seven-time world champion“Explains his boss Toto Wolff, interviewed in Le Castellet by AFP.

If, as it stands, it is almost impossible, barring an incident, for Hamilton to play for victory this Sunday (“we are too slow in a straight line“), his progress and that of his car are remarkable. He wins his partner again and is a regular at the front. It is still too early to bet on a winless season for Sir Lewis, which would be the first of his career. Updates expected after the winter break (at Spa-Francorchamps on August 28) portend a brighter tomorrow for the record 103-win. And the absence of a 104 would not be prohibitive, Toto Wolff assures him: “He loves what he does, talking about development, helping the team. I don’t see him leaving F1 anytime soon.”

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