Lewis Hamilton said his Mercedes team is going “backwards” after an underwhelming performance at the weekend’s season-opening Grand Prix in Bahrain.
The seven-time world champion battled to finish fifth having begun seventh on the grid, crossing the line nearly 51 seconds behind race winner Max Verstappen.
Hamilton’s teammate George Russell finished in seventh to cap off a disappointing start to the 2023 Formula One season for Mercedes.
Afterwards, Hamilton had an honest reaction to how his car and his team performed in contrast to others.
“We definitely can’t fight them at the moment – [Red Bull] were much quicker than us, as were the Astons,” the 38-year-old said.
“We’re the fourth fastest team now, as opposed to the third last year. We’re going backwards, [so] we really have a lot of work to do to close that gap.”
Reigning world champion Verstappen put his stamp on the new season with his dominant race, while his teammate Sergio Pérez completed a Red Bull one-two.
More than 20 years after his F1 debut, Fernando Alonso put in the performance of the weekend though as the 41-year-old came in third in his debut for Aston Martin.
The two-time world champion said the whole team was “extremely proud” with how the car performed in the race.
Alonso’s car highlights from the season opener came in battles with Hamilton – both at the start of the race and a wheel-to-wheel scrap towards the end – where the Spaniard came out on top.
Hamilton expressed his joy at the thrill of the battle, but also his disappointment at the overall result.
“I genuinely loved the racing. I had a great start, got Fernando in Turn 4 and I was like: ‘Oh jeez, this is a great start to the race.’ It felt like one of my better opening laps,” Hamilton said.
“Then I just was sliding around. I had so much understeer at the beginning, I took so much wing out, I couldn’t get around some of the corners, and I just couldn’t keep up with the guys ahead.
“My middle stint was good and then, at the end, I was so close to catching Carlos [Sainz for fourth position], but [it was] not good enough.”
Coming into the 2023 F1 season, Mercedes has stuck with developing its unique “zero sidepod” design of car that it struggled with last season.
After the race, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff called Sunday “one of the worst days in racing” while also promising “radical” changes.
“Really not good at all, we were just lacking pace front, right, and center,” Wolff told Sky Sports.
“Red Bull is just on a different planet. That is what hurts because they are so far ahead, it reminds me of our best years because we just put a second on everybody else.
“That is the benchmark and we have to do one step after the other to come back and we can do that. We can, absolutely we can. I think it needs to be much more radical in the steps than hope for a three tenths upgrade.”