‘I don’t feel connected to this car. No matter what you do’: Deflated Lewis Hamilton is lost and running out of confidence as he keeps off the pace in Saudi Arabia… but the seven-time champion ‘doesn’t foresee’ leaving Mercedes by 2024
Lewis Hamilton was left like a little boy whose lollipop had been taken away. Feet close together, knees drooping, shoulders hunched, hands at his sides. And his voice was barely a whisper, at times, when he admitted that he had lost all trust in his Mercedes.
That was the grim countenance of the seven-time world champion, standing like a semi-traumatized figure by the Red Sea on the eve of a Saudi Arabian Grand Prix that was opened by the unexpected early qualifying exit of defending world champion Max Verstappen with a failure. of the transmission shaft.
Part of the anguish that gnawed at the master was personified by the apprentice standing next to him in the paddock, one George Russell, his teammate, 13 years his junior, and on the day the fourth fastest on this circuit. white-knuckle road race to his own eighth-best. Worse yet, three tenths of a second separated one Silver Arrow from the other.
Up front, Red Bull’s Sergio Pérez stayed on to set the standard with only the second pole position of his career, both achieved in Jeddah, with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc in second and Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso third.
Hamilton posted just the eighth fastest time in Jeddah, 0.958sec behind Sergio Perez.
Alonso joins Pérez on the front row, with George Russell third, four tenths behind Hamilton
By the time the grand prix kicks off under tonight’s lights, Alonso will have shuffled one place while Leclerc plummets 10 places due to a change to the engine’s electrical system. The possibility remains, however fanciful it may be, that the 41-year-old Spaniard could fly from Saudi Arabia topping the pilots’ standings. It’s the kind of conversation Lewis would love to be in, but he’s not, and clearly the consideration of every moment of the event is heartbreaking.
When asked how frustrated he was, Hamilton, suddenly a 38-year-old man-child, quietly replied: ‘George did a great job. He’s up there in the second row. The car obviously has performance. I don’t feel connected to this car. No matter what I do, no matter what I change, I can’t trust it. I’m a bit lost with that.
You could see the gulf between the two black-suited rivals. Russell’s megawatt eyes told his version of his story. He willingly declared that it had turned out to be a better day than he had woken up expecting in a machine that is being drastically overhauled, so inherently poor is his basic conception.
As for Hamilton, he earned the last of his 103 wins 468 days ago here on the Corniche. The longest wait of his long career. And this week he raised the possibility of leaving Mercedes, expressing hardly the slightest doubt about where his future may lie, before his boss, Toto Wolff, acknowledged the reality that he could lose his team’s incomparable star if he was not gives a team capable of enabling it. him to claim the eighth world title that remains the guiding star of him.
Hamilton, his voice low again, replied: “I wouldn’t say that this situation is giving me a lot of pleasure.” I was there, I did that, I got the jersey. But I’m trying to be patient and work with the team to get us to a good place.
“I am not focused on what Toto said about moving to another place. I love this team. I am so thankful for everyone who has been on the journey with me.
Tacking ever so slightly, he added: ‘I can’t imagine being anywhere else. I don’t see myself giving up.
Hamilton casts a surly figure in the moments after a disappointing night of work in Jeddah
Don’t necessarily underestimate the importance of the word ‘foresee’.
Another topic that has tongues wagging in the paddock is the departure this weekend of Hamilton’s trainer, Angela Cullen, a key assistant for seven dedicated years. She shed no light on the timing or the reasoning, she just said, ‘Ange and I are fine. She has moved into a different phase of her life. We’re still super close. She is texting every day. She is very supportive and I support her tremendously. I am so grateful to have had her on this journey. She is one of my best friends and she still is.
Back to qualifying. Verstappen’s troubles began with what he called a “big moment” eight minutes from the end of Q2. He recovered. Then his mishap at the end of the session came a few moments later.
Despite the obvious pain of having the expected pole position ripped from his gloved hands, Verstappen can take solace in the knowledge that he can possibly still claim victory by blasting his way through the field in a Red Bull with magic carpet chances.