Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen drove wheel-to-wheel last season and finished the season separated by only eight points in the final World Drivers’ Championship standings.
At the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on Sunday though, Verstappen took victory while his erstwhile rival, Hamilton, languished in 10th place.
An attack claimed by Yemen’s Houthi rebels on an oil storage facility near the circuit, however, overshadowed the race and nearly resulted in a driver boycott over safety fears.
“I am so happy the weekend is done,” Hamilton said, according to the Guardian. “I am so happy that everyone is safe, I am just looking forward to getting out. I just want to go home.”
Hamilton’s trials on the track began during qualifying as he failed to make it out of Q1 – the first qualifying round – for the first time since the 2017 Brazilian Grand Prix.
“We are quite a bit off pace-wise, and we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Hamilton said after the race to Formula One.
After starting 15th on the grid, Hamilton initially recovered the situation, moving up to sixth on hard tires. However, confusion within the team about whether to pit just before a virtual safety car was deployed undid Hamilton’s progress.
“It was a difficult one,” Hamilton said. “I saw [Fernando] Alonso slowing down, it was double yellow flags, so I didn’t push to overtake him. Then Daniel [Ricciardo] was stuck in the pit lane, so I didn’t know if I could go in [the pits] with the car just sitting there. It was just not great. Anyways, it is what it is.”
Hamilton was heard asking his engineer if his 10th-placed finish would yield any points, such was his unfamiliarity with the lower echelons of the grid.
In the end, he gathered just a solitary point in the world championship and sits in fifth place, one spot behind his Mercedes teammate George Russell and 29 points behind the leader, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.
After enjoying the fastest car for the last eight seasons, it is becoming increasingly clear that, at the moment, Mercedes does not have the pace of Red Bull or Ferrari.
“Right now, we’re not fighting for the top step. We’re so far off the guys at the front,” Hamilton acknowledged to Sky Sports.
Hamilton and Mercedes’ next opportunity to prove themselves will be on April 10 at the Australian Grand Prix.