Toto Wolff: Lewis Hamilton has a Mercedes ready to win world championship again
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, 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 of by posting the fastest time in the first test session on day one of three in Bahrain – 1.2 seconds clear of George Russell in the all-black Mercedes – Wolff hinted that his team is primed to challenge.
“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. We have had a productive morning.”
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 is heading into the final year of his £40million-a-season contract, but the noise from both the British driver 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.”
At the lunch break in Bahrain, Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz was second in the order, three tenths behind Verstappen.
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.