A FEARFUL Lewis Hamilton insists Mercedes has “big problems” with its car after the championship leader failed to match Max Verstappen’s race-winning pace at the Malaysia GP.
Hamilton warned the Silver Arrows, now 118 points ahead of their rivals in the constructors’ standings, will be cut adrift from Ferrari and Red Bull in 2018 if they do not rectify their faults.
Hamilton’s frank admissions come despite the fact his second place in Malaysia came off the back of a three-race winning streak, while he has also extended his title advantage over Sebastian Vettel to 34 points with just five Grands Prix remaining.
“We’ve done an exceptional job with what we have,” the downbeat three-time world champion told Sky F1. “There are some really big problems which I can’t really explain to you.
“But we really need to make sure we rectify them for next year’s cars if we really want to fight both Ferrari and Red Bull when they step up their game.”
After a dominant one-two in Italy, team boss Toto Wolff admitted the pace drop-off in Singapore — where Hamilton won after starting fifth — and Malaysia was “worrisome” for the world champions.
Wolff also believes that without Ferrari’s reliability struggles — Vettel started from the back on Sunday and Kimi Raikkonen not at all — Mercedes’ pace would only have been good enough for fifth.
Vettel finished 19 seconds ahead of Valtteri Bottas and closed to within 10 seconds of Hamilton in the closing stages before settling for fourth.
“There is a lot of work for us to do,” explained Hamilton. “But there’s nothing we can do, it’s the way the car is.
“People have been saying all year long that we’ve got the best car. It’s a fact at some races that the car has turned out to be better but overall, globally, I think it’s worked out that we haven’t.”
Mercedes are confident of regrouping ahead of a Japanese GP which should suit their W08’s package, but Hamilton was still ruing the missed opportunity in Malaysia after Vettel’s storming comeback drive.
“Considering Vettel started last, it’s not really that great to be honest,” he added. “We should have won today but we didn’t have the pace.
“I don’t know which one of these next races are going to be good for us but we’ll do everything we can to try and stay ahead.”
Sky F1’s Martin Brundle questioned where Mercedes’ pace has gone. “They were struggling in Singapore and they got lucky with the first corner shunt. They were struggling for pace here and that’s why I think Lewis is a little bit downbeat about it,” Brundle said.
“It’s been quite a big turnaround and I think if Ferrari didn’t keep stepping on their own tails so much at the moment, they’d be in with a great chance for this world championship. Instead now they’ll have to fight for it, and the key is can Raikkonen take points off Hamilton in the remaining races and can Vettel have a clean weekend.
“And the Red Bulls are right in there too. They should be mighty in Suzuka. Red Bull might be able to get between Ferrari and Mercedes and add some pain in there.”