Thursday 14 December 2017

Lewis Hamilton rules himself out of World title hunt

Ian Parkes

Lewis Hamilton feels Mercedes lack the pace to fight for this year's Formula One world championship, but has not ruled out the prospect of at least one race win.

Hamilton's fifth-placed finish in Sunday's Australian Grand Prix was more than he had envisaged going into the season as Mercedes proved they had taken a considerable step forward from last year.

There was the suggestion they may yet have what it takes to challenge reigning champions Red Bull, winners in Melbourne in Lotus, and their long-time rivals Ferrari.

With Hamilton admitting he did not extract the most from the car at Albert Park, the potential is there.

But as for a title challenge, not this year as Hamilton told Press Association Sport: "At the moment, in terms of pure performance we don't have the speed to compete for the world title.

"But I feel there is more in the car and if we set it up we can be quicker. Whether that means we can close the gap and get ahead of the others, who knows.

"I'm certainly thinking we could get one win, maybe more than one, but the other guys are going to make it as hard as they can that's for sure."

For Hamilton, this weekend in Malaysia comes too soon for that dream of a victory to be realised.

Mercedes opted to concentrate on their long-run pace over the two 90-minute sessions at the Sepang International Circuit.

That was to such a degree Hamilton admits he failed to get in a truly quick lap on either of the two Pirelli tyre compounds, the medium and the hard, leaving him baffled as to his true standing.

Hamilton was ultimately ninth quickest, a second down on Lotus' Kimi Raikkonen, with the Finn determined to prove his 20th career victory in Australia was no fluke and he and the team are contenders.

"It wasn't the best of days, but a work in progress," said Hamilton.

"I think we're strong on race pace, and the car is improving all the time, so I'm definitely satisfied with that.

"We're at least where we finished in the last race, but I think we can do better."

Crucial for Hamilton's chances of strong points at least on Sunday will be the weather as torrential rain regularly strikes in the late afternoon given the heat and high humidity.

With FP2 affected slightly by some rain, that restricted Hamilton's running and his assessment of the car compared to his rivals.

But he has concerns over the Mercedes' handling in the wet, as he discovered last weekend in Melbourne when conditions turned and he slid off at one point, hitting a wall.

"I was very uncomfortable with the car in the wet," said Hamilton.

"I had an oversteering car, I had an oversteer moment, and I put it backwards in the wall, which is very unusual for me.

"Usually in the wet that is when I feel most comfortable, but that was probably the first time I've not felt confident in the car in the wet.

"But it is a new car, it handles a lot differently and the controls are set up a lot differently.

"So I need to learn it, grow with it, but I'll still drive the same as I have always done, although I'll even adapt if I have to, do what I need to do."

It was Raikkonen, though, that set the pace, splitting the Red Bulls in FP1 when Mark Webber led the way, and finishing 0.019secs ahead of reigning triple world champion Sebastian Vettel in FP2.

"It was a pretty good day," said Raikkonen.

"We tried changing a few things on the car and made progress with where we wanted to be at the end of the sessions.

"We had some running in the wet, which you often get around here, and the car feels fine."

Warning as to the potential tomorrow, the Finn added: "We ran pretty heavy today so I don't know how we'll be when everyone is light for qualifying.

"But I'm happy with where we are and expect we'll be reasonable tomorrow."

Ferrari's Felipe Massa was third on the timesheet ahead of team-mate Fernando Alonso, followed by Webber, Lotus' Romain Grosjean and Nico Rosberg in his Mercedes.

Force India's Paul di Resta was eighth quickest, whilst the McLarens of Sergio Perez and Jenson Button were again languishing in 11th and 12th respectively.

Marussia's Max Chilton brought up the rear, but suffered brake duct issues that compromised his running.

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