Lewis Hamilton has warned erratic Mercedes they risk throwing away their 2024 championship chances in the next few months unless they change their ways.
In a swingeing assessment of their campaign, he said it was no better in Japan than it was in last year’s train-wreck of a season.
Most of the grid have started work on next year’s design but tMercedes have been slow to switch focus where he wants.
The 38-year-old Briton signed a new two-year deal earlier this month in the hope Mercedes return to their winning ways. But the German team have rarely looked like their old selves and Sunday it was clear they have fallen behind Ferrari as well as McLaren and Red Bull, finishing fifth and seventh.
“I’m exhausted,” said Hamilton. “It’s tough on weekends like this where the car is a handful. It’s basically exactly the same as last year feeling-wise with the bouncing and sliding.
“And that’s tough given how much work we’ve done. And we’re not any closer to the front – at least not here. We have a long way to go.”
In a blow to their garlanded design team, he said the car’s design concept was wrong: “We are a long way away [from Red Bull].
“The next six months of development has got to be the greatest six months of development we’ve ever, ever had if we are going to close that gap and be really banging on the door.”
Mercedes lack of improvement lately has been highlighted by rivals McLaren.
Both teams had a disastrous start to the year but McLaren reacted more decisively, pulling the trigger on a re-design similar to that of Red Bull.
As he re-jigged his own design team, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has always insisted the former champions will never dominate by copying their rivals.
But Hamilton believes it is a good starting point: “The evidence is there at McLaren 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 but it doesn’t work with this car, it just makes it bounce more.”
It’s all the more embarrassing for Mercedes because McLaren are outclassing them with the very same Mercedes engine.
“Hopefully with a change of philosophy we’ll be back to where we deserve because this is a world championship team,” added Hamilton.
“We still are an amazing team and I have absolute faith in everyone.
“But decisions that are made in this period of time are absolutely critical for our trajectory.”
Mercedes minimised the damage in the battle over second with Ferrari to just four points in Suzuka. But the 20 point difference could easily disappear in one bad weekend.
It’s about pride, of course, but tens of millions in prize money rest on the two runners-up spots too.
And Hamilton has staged something of a person revival after the setbacks of last year and, remarkably, could still steal runners-up spot from Red Bull number two Sergio Perez.
That beggars belief given the Mexican is in a car that, in other hands, has won six of the last seven races and all but one race this year.
It is clear testament to Hamilton’s ability that, given a better car, he will rise to the occasion.
Meanwhile Max Verstappen’s glorious form returned with victory at Sazuka Sunday after the Singapore interregnum and virtually single-handedly he has taken Red Bull to their sixth constructors title blowing away records.
While the plaudits continue to rain down it is difficult to judge the Dutchman in absolute terms. Perez is so mediocre he is no yardstick and the car so superior it only clouds the issue. Would he beat Hamilton in the same car, or Lando Norris? Let’s hope we get the chance to find out one day soon.
His relentless speed and brilliance has certainly sparkled amidst the boredom of another age of domination.
But you have to look past Verstappen and Hamilton for the real hero here: genius car designer Adrian Newey who now has over 200 F1 wins and 12 constructors championships to his name.
He also has 12 drivers titles and in a fortnight in Qatar, in all likelihood, a 13th. Not bad for someone kicked out of school at 16 for misbehaviour.