Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff has promised to defend Lewis Hamilton after the seven-time Formula 1 Champion underperformed in the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix on Sunday.
In the fourth round of the season, the Briton finished 13th and was lapped by Red Bull’s World Champion race winner Max Verstappen.
Hamilton’s apparent loss of form, as well as the car’s performance, was called into doubt after his Mercedes teammate George Russell finished fourth at the Imola sprint weekend.
“I have to protect him. It´s not his low, It´s the low of the car performance” Wolff said in an interview after failing to make it to Q1 on Saturday.
“The guy is the best driver in the world and he is not having a machine and equipment underneath him to be able to execute,” added the Austrian.
“In a way it is even irrelevant whether you come eighth, 12th, 15th, doesn´t matter, it´s all bad.”
Hamilton now ranks seventh in the championship standings, 58 points behind Ferrari’s leader Charles Leclerc, and his championship chances are in shambles.
Wolff believes that all true greats faced challenges in their careers and overcame them, and that Hamilton, who has won a record 103 races, will do the same.
“He´s going to help the team to sort themselves out and we are sticking together through good and bad times and today certainly was a very bad day,” he added.
After the race, Wolff apologised to Hamilton over the team radio, stating Mercedes had not given a car worthy of a champion and that they will rectify the situation.
The Mercedes W13 is affected by porpoising more than other cars, a major issue caused by new rules that causes it to bounce on the straights when aerodynamic downforce is gained and lost.
Wolff expressed optimism that the team would be able to unlock the “aerodynamic goodness,” but acknowledged that they may have to go back to the drawing board.
“You don´t need to throw away the goodness, but if there are fundamental areas that don´t allow us to unlock the potential that we believe is in the car, then you need to cut your losses,” he said. “It would mean you say ‘where is the baseline now?’. Is there a new one we can start on where we believe we can unlock more potential?
“If we thought that, we would have done it five months ago. We believed this was the development line we needed to take. So it is quite a tricky exercise.”
Max Verstappen, who denied Hamilton a record-equaling eighth championship last year, was frank about how it felt to lap the sport’s most successful driver.
“They’ve been slow all year, so it’s not really a surprise or I feel happy lapping Lewis compared to anyone else,” said the Red Bull driver.