Lewis Hamilton says that Red Bull’s development lead over its rivals is “definitely a concern” for 2024, especially as it hasn’t even “touched its car since August".
For Hamilton, Sunday’s Abu Dhabi GP was an unsatisfactory end to an unsatisfactory season, marked by Mercedes’ wavering performance and struggles, and another winless streak for the seven-time world champion.
The Briton concluded his campaign with a lowly P9 at Yas Marina and third in F1’s Drivers’ championship, five spots and 59 points ahead of Mercedes teammate George Russell.
But Hamilton’s upper hand this year over the latter is but a meager consolation and a small solace for the 103-time Grand Prix winner?
“Not great,” he said when asked about his mood after F1’s season finale. “I just finished ninth; two really bad races [P7 in Las Vegas].
“Red Bull won by 17 seconds and have not touched the car since August. So, you can pretty much guess where they're going to be next year… I was just slow throughout the race.”
While his Mercedes team has taken away many learnings from its challenging campaign that it hopes will prove beneficial in 2024, Hamilton reflected on the season with limited personal gains or insights.
“It's not been a great year in general,” he told Sky F1. “So, there's not a lot to take from the year. The fact that I survived it… that's about it.
“[Red Bull] haven't even developed their car since August; it’s definitely a concern.
“But we've learned a lot about the car and it's just down to the team now and they know what they need to do. Whether or not we'll get there, we'll see.”
Mercedes has repeatedly said that it would leave no stone unturned this winter in its bid to turn around its fortunes. But team boss Toto Wolff warns that bridging the gap with Red Bull poses a formidable challenge.
“When you win P2 on a day like today it reminds you that you lost P1,” Wolff said. “We need to take it on the chin, be humble about it and consider today as a good day.
“Nevertheless, there is a Mount Everest to climb to catch up with Red Bull.
“I have no doubt that McLaren is going to be right in the mix next year, maybe Aston Martin, maybe others insofar as we must leave no stone unturned, which we do in Brixworth and in Brackley.
“As tough as it is to be reminded that it is just P2, it’s also a great, great opportunity to come back and strive for the stars.”
Fueling in part Mercedes’ motivation for 2024 are the standout performances enjoyed by Aston Martin in the first part of the season and then by McLaren from last July at the Austrian GP
“Red Bull has started these regulations in 2022 with a massive advantage and have been able to retain it,” the Austrian explained.
“We need to have a lot of respect for their achievement in the engineering side and the driver and beating them under the current regulations is against the odds, that’s clear.”
“At the same time, we have seen with McLaren an update [in Austria] unlocked a second of lap time and with AlphaTauri coming strong at the end [of the season] and Aston Martin over the winter, there is a key to unlock dramatically more performance.”
“I think us making this honest assessment that this car is never going to be good enough to fight for the championship, and we have taken the decision in spring that we have got to go back to the drawing board and come up with something new next year.
“But Mount Everest is in front of us.”