Toto Wolff: Lewis Hamilton has a Mercedes ready to win the world title
Toto Wolff has sent out a defiant message by declaring Mercedes are ready to carry Lewis Hamilton to a record eighth world championship.
In stark contrast to the doom and gloom which last year engulfed the Silver Arrows as their jumpy machine hit the track for the first time in testing, team principal Wolff painted a rosier picture 12 months on.
Porpoising – the phenomenon where a car bounces up and down on its suspension – contributed to, statistically at least, Hamilton’s worst season in Formula One.
But a new FIA directive to raise the floor edges of this season’s cars by 15mm to mitigate the problem has removed the thorn in Mercedes’ side.
And although it was double world champion Max Verstappen who picked up where he left off by posting the fastest time on day one of three in Bahrain – 0.671 seconds clear of Hamilton in the all-black Mercedes – Wolff hinted that his team is primed to challenge ahead of next weekend’s opening race, also in the Gulf Kingdom.
“You need to provide a good car for a driver that has the ambition to win races and championships and we have that,” said Wolff.
“We want to win. At this stage last year, we knew we were in trouble because the car was bouncing around and we were not able to drive it correctly.
“But today, it is very different. The car seems to be balanced in the right way. There is no bouncing which is good news. It is a good starting point.”
Hamilton is gearing up for his 17th season in F1 and his 11th with Mercedes.
He last year lost his record of winning at least one race in every season of his career – a streak which stretched back to his debut campaign for McLaren in 2007 – and finished sixth in the standings, 214 points adrift of Verstappen.
The seven-time world champion, who was pictured inspecting Verstappen’s Red Bull during a filming shoot ahead of the day’s running, is heading into the final year of his £40million-a-season contract.
But the noise from both the British driver, 38, and Mercedes is that an extension will be signed, regardless of their on-track form.
Wolff continued: “I am amazed because Lewis has been with the team for 10 years and every year he just come backs more mature, more professional and more understanding of what is good for him. He is in high spirits and super-determined.”
George Russell, who won Mercedes’ sole race of last season in an impressive debut campaign for the Silver Arrows, finished 1.2 sec adrift of Verstappen before Hamilton took over, completing 83 laps.
As day turned to night in Bahrain, Fernando Alonso moved into second for new team Aston Martin – just 0.029 sec behind Verstappen, who completed 157 laps, with Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc third and fourth respectively for Ferrari.
You need to provide a good car for a driver that has the ambition to win races and championships and we have that
Lando Norris took fifth for McLaren, one place ahead of Hamilton.
Felipe Drugovich, who deputised for Lance Stroll with the Canadian a doubt for next weekend’s race following a wrist injury sustained in a recent road bike accident, broke down early on in his Aston Martin.
The reigning Formula Two champion suffered an electronic failure but he returned to the track to complete 40 laps.
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