IMOLA, Italy (Reuters) – Lewis Hamilton wrote off his hopes of winning a record eighth Formula One world championship this year after falling 50 points adrift of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc at Imola on Saturday.
“We’re obviously not fighting for this championship,” the Briton told Sky Sports television after finishing 14th in a Saturday sprint that set the starting grid for Sunday’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.
“But we’re fighting to understand the car and improve and progress through the year,” he added. “That’s all we can hope for right now.”
Mercedes have won the last eight constructors’ titles but failed on Friday to get a car through to the final phase of qualifying for the first time since 2012 and slipped to third in the standings on Saturday.
Hamilton, the sport’s most successful driver of all time with 103 wins, said a lot of work was going on to fix the car’s problems but ‘it is what it is’.
“Ultimately we haven’t got it right this year but everyone’s working as hard as they can to correct it.”
Leclerc has won two of the season’s first three races, taken three bonus points for fastest laps and finished second, behind Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, in the Imola sprint which earned him a further seven points.
The Monegasque is now 40 points clear of closest challenger and team mate Carlos Sainz, with every chance of extending that further on Sunday.
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said nobody in the team was “anywhere near enjoying the ride at the moment” and they needed to dig themselves out of the hole.
“Probably today marks the low of these first four races,” added the Austrian.
“It’s obvious that we are not anywhere near the fight at the front and it would be pretty unrealistic to claim to have a slot among the front-runners for fighting for the championship.”
Wolff acknowledged that frustration and pressure were building up but played down reports of heated words with Hamilton in the back of the Mercedes garage and said the team was not spiralling into negative momentum.
“It’s quite funny how it’s being interpreted,” he said, saying he and Hamilton had shared frustration about the lack of performance.
“It was basically the same point of view and just sheer anger,” he said. “There is no division, no blaming or anything of that.”
Wolff said scoring points had to be the minimum requirement but the car was not good enough and the Imola weekend was looking a complete write-off.
“Beyond the fact that we’re learning, it’s another humbling experience,” he said.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Clare Fallon)