Emilia Romagna Grand Prix F1: Mercedes car so bad George Russell is having chest pains

Mercedes have such problems with their car bouncing around the tracks that one of their star drivers is experiencing significant medical issues.

During the first pre-season test in February, Lewis Hamilton made a bold claim: “My team don’t make mistakes.” Two months later, after a dismal weekend in Imola, he returned to that comment, but added that with “all the possibilities out there, we may have”.

It was the first indication that there is some concern within the Mercedes camp that the concept they have gone for this year is simply not working. At what point do they tear up these ill- fated plans and start from scratch?

They had turned up in Barcelona with a car that looked broadly similar to the other nine, but come the second test in Bahrain it had virtually no sidepods and was the talk of the paddock. They have stuck with that design and experienced extreme porpoising - the bouncing of the car on the straights. It would appear to be going so wrong for Mercedes that both Hamilton and his team-mate, George Russell, said that the car last weekend was the worst it had been. Four races into this season, Russell is experiencing back and chest pains because the bouncing is so bad.

Russell finished the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix in fourth, while Hamilton could manage only 13th. Toto Wolff, the Mercedes team principal, conceded that there might be an issue with the concept of the car, but he was adamant that a complete reboot was not necessary.

“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?,” Wolff said.

“If we thought that, we would have done it five months ago. We believed this was the development line we needed to take. It is quite a tricky exercise. You can only cut the losses into next year if you understand where we got it wrong, because at the moment we simply don’t. Not yet.”

But if the concept is flawed, and if that becomes clear in a time frame not specified by the team boss, then Wolff said they would “cut their losses”.

“It is a valid point [that the design concept may be flawed],” he said. “We have interesting ideas and concepts that we are exploring that may find their way on to the car in the next few races. I wouldn’t say there is such a thing as a concept being wrong, but is there a part of what we have done that simply doesn’t work, and what is it?

“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.”

Wolff also spoke over the weekend about how the team felt they knew how to unlock performance from the car, but just didn’t have the keys to do it.

It certainly is possible to have a fast car that experiences porpoising - just look at Ferrari - and this may be why Mercedes are continuing, for now at least, down their chosen path.

Watching the onboard footage of Charles Leclerc on the straight is enough to induce a headache for the viewer, let alone the driver, but the 24-year-old has won two of the four races this season. He has spoken of how the porpoising doesn’t seem to affect him in the car. “Of course I feel it, but it doesn’t disturb me too much in terms of performance,” he said. How the Mercedes pair wish they could say the same.

George Russell and Lewis Hamilton have struggled all season
George Russell and Lewis Hamilton have struggled all season

There is also the issue of the budget cap, set at dollars 140 million (about pounds 110 million) this year, which means Mercedes cannot just throw money at the problem. Nor do they have unlimited time in the windtunnel. In fact, as the leading team in recent years they have had the least time in the wind tunnel - a regulation designed to level the playing field. Another issue for the team is that no matter how good their simulator is, it cannot replicate the wind rushing between the track and front wing which is causing the bouncing to occur.

Hamilton was back in the factory yesterday (Monday) as the team tried to resolve their issues. With the next race in Miami on May 8 they are unlikely to bring huge improvements to that - teams rarely do to long-haul races - so it will not be until the following race in Spain that they can make any serious changes.

All is not lost for Mercedes. Russell is the only driver on the grid to have finished inside the top five of every race this season, but Hamilton had the ignominy of being lapped by his former championship rival Max Verstappen.

This car is the one that will race for the next few years. No new regulations are planned, so it’s not as simple as just writing off this season. Mercedes need to get their design right, or they will be writing off a few more years.

FERRARI STAR’S ‘GREED’ COULD COST HIM ULTIMATE F1 PRIZE

Formula One championship leader Charles Leclerc has been copping it from everyone after admitting that greed got the better of him and he stuffed up at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

Although he still leads Max Verstappen by 27 points in the drivers’ championship, Leclerc confessed that he threw away seven more points with a rookie error that could have been a lot worse.

In third spot late in the race, with a fourth straight podium finish seemingly in the bag, Leclerc made a late push to try and take second spot off Sergio Perez, one of the best defenders in Formula One.

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But his gamble backfired when he hit a kerb and spun into the barriers, damaging his car, which prompted Ferrari to order him back to the garage for some running repairs to the front wing.

Leclerc was lucky his race didn’t end there and said he learnt a valuable lesson after recovering to finish sixth.

“I was too greedy and I paid the price for it,” Leclerc said.

“I lost seven potential points, compared to my third place I was before, so it is a shame.

“It’s seven points that are valuable at the end of the championship for sure. And this shouldn’t happen again.

Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) attacks Sergio Perez before spinning out. Picture: Clive Mason/Getty
Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) attacks Sergio Perez before spinning out. Picture: Clive Mason/Getty

“All points count. And today I have put away seven points against the 15 we had if we were third. I will learn for the future. It is the way it is, I have analysed the data. I know what I have done and I will move on.”

No-one needs to tell Leclerc how important it is that he minimises any mistakes like that if he wants to beat Verstappen for the world title - but that hasn’t stopped them reminding him.

The 24-year-old’s ears will be burning with the number of people warning him that Verstappen isn’t going to give up his world title easily after his ferocious battle with Lewis Hamilton last year.

Nico Rosberg - who also beat Hamilton aftera season-long scrap to win the 2016 world title - led the chorus when said he couldn’t believe Leclerc’s foolish error.

“Charles Leclerc oh my God, I mean if you are fighting for a championship against Max Verstappen, you just cannot allow yourself to spin out there when you are just driving on your own,” Rosberg said.

A dejected Charles Leclerc after finishing sixth at Emilia Romagna. Picture: Dan Mullan/Getty
A dejected Charles Leclerc after finishing sixth at Emilia Romagna. Picture: Dan Mullan/Getty

“Yes he was hunting down Perez, but the pressure was on Perez not on Charles, so to spin like that, my goodness, he has to avoid that for the rest of the season if he wants to win this championship.”

But Rosberg said Ferrari also needed to step up and share some of the blame for the points Leclerc missed out on when they brought him back into the team garage to repair his car instead of leaving him out there in third place with only a few laps to go.

“I think Ferrari also made a mistake,” Rosberg said.

“They should have left him out for one more lap to see how that front wing is hanging on there, because it looked fine structurally, it was just the right-hand side flap that was missing.

“So that could have been okay to still finish at least fourth in the race, so I think Ferrari did a small mistake there.”

Hamilton rivals’s brutal

Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton has received the ultimate slapdown - told he should have quit Formula One last year after yet another humiliating result.

Lewis has already conceded he has no hope of competing for this year’s championship because his Mercedes just can’t keep up with his main rivals.

And although he did manage to finish third in the season opening race in Bahrain and fourth in Australia, Lewis is struggling badly - and that’s opened the way for his rivals to lay the boot in.

Lewis was 10th in Saudi Arabia and 13th at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix on Sunday night - both won by his arch rival Max Verstappen - who controversially pipped Lewis for the title last year.

But that wasn’t the worst because Verstappen lapped Lewis before the end of the race, and shrugged his shoulders at how easy it was.

“They’ve been slow all year,” Verstappen said. “So for me it’s not really anything exciting, it just happens.”

Red Bull’s team advisor Helmut Marko couldn’t resist taking another swipe at Hamilton’s disastrous result, saying the 37-year-old should have thought about retiring when he controversially lost out to Verstappen in last season’s epic title race.

Lewis Hamilton endured another nightmare weekend
Lewis Hamilton endured another nightmare weekend

“I mean, he was lapped by us,” Marko said. “Maybe he is thinking he should have stopped last year!”

Hamilton didn’t hide his disappointment either after another miserable outing behind the wheel.

“This was a weekend to forget, that’s for sure,” he said.

“Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. We live and we learn, and there’s not much else to say.

“I’ll keep working as hard as I can to try and pull it back together, somehow. I hope for a better weekend in Miami, it will be difficult but I’ll try and get myself in a positive headspace for the next one.”

Although Hamilton inked a new contract with Mercedes, questions about how long he will stay in the sport if his car remains uncompetitive are already starting to surface, particularly as he struggles to keep up with his younger teammate George Russell.

Although he never threatened to catch the race winner and got a lucky break to finish fourth when Charles Leclerc spun his Ferrari trying to catch runner-up Sergio Perez, it hasn’t been lost on anyone that Russell has now beaten Hamilton in each of the last three races.

Russell admitted he’s had more luck than Lewis but also said he expects to get faster.

“Whether we’re getting the most out of the car is a different story and I do think things have fallen slightly in our favour with these first four races,” he said.

“I’m really happy with this P4, but if we want to sustain this position in the championship, we need to find more pace.”

Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff - who played down reports of a rift in the team garage - later apologised to Hamilton for not giving him the car to keep up.

“For Lewis, it was a simple case of us not giving him the tools he needs,” Wolff said.

“We are not producing a car good enough or worthy of a World Champion like Lewis so we need to look at things for Miami, make a step forward in our understanding and bring development to the car to fix our issues.”

Hamilton and Wolff had not had much to smile about in recent weeks
Hamilton and Wolff had not had much to smile about in recent weeks

MERCEDES BOSS SHOCK RADIO MESSAGE TO HAMILTON

Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff made an extraordinary public apology to a crestfallen Lewis Hamilton, describing his car as “undriveable” and unworthy for a world champion.

Wolff spoke on team radio and then to reporters after a desultory day for Hamilton who finished the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix in a lowly 13th while Mercedes teammate George Russell was fourth.

Adding insult to injury, Hamilton was lapped by his recent nemesis world champion Max Verstappen.

Verstappen won the race ahead of Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez to trim Charles Leclerc’s lead in the title race to 27 points with Lando Norris finishing third for McLaren.

Russell, 24, competing in the same difficult ‘porpoising’ and under-performing Mercedes car as the 37-year-old seven-time champion has now beaten Hamilton in each of the last three races.

“We are not good enough for a world champion — and we just need to fix the car,” said Wolff.

Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes
Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes

On team radio, he apologised to Hamilton as soon as the race ended. “I am sorry for what you had to drive today. I know it was undriveable. This was a terrible race.
“We are not good enough, we are not worthy of a world champion.”
Hamilton responded: “No worries, Toto. Just keep working hard.”
Hamilton’s most humbling moment in a desultory race came when he was lapped by Verstappen who enjoyed an easy pass for the race-leading Red Bull.

Sunday’s result was one of Hamilton’s worst since he joined Mercedes. His only previous pointless finish came at last year’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix where he was 15th.

His previous worst run of results came in 2009 when he struggled in an uncompetitive McLaren and registered his worst finish of 18th at the German Grand Prix.

Hamilton was at a loss.

“It’s been difficult, but I don’t really know what to say,” he said. “It’s definitely not easy and we all feel it as a team. At least George got some points so my apologies to everyone (that) I wasn’t able to do the same.

Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the Mercedes
Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the Mercedes

“I just wasn’t fast enough to overtake and I don’t really know why. I just wasn’t moving forwards. I was just a bit of a sitting duck.”
Hamilton said he had experienced worse times in his career.

“I’ve definitely had lower moments so it’s not the lowest, for sure,” he said. “Everyone’s feeling it and everyone’s just head down trying their best. There’s no-one that’s giving up and everyone’s just trying to move it forward as fast as they can.

Mercedes are now third in the constructors standings with Russell having contributed 49 of their 77 points.

“Lewis is going to come back incredibly strong, I have no doubt,” said Russell. “He’s definitely going to be pushing me all the way. I think it’s just how things fall out sometimes in a race weekend. I made a very strong start — I don’t know what happened to him at the start.

“But I expect him to come back so strong. The way he is pushing and motivating the team is inspiring. I’m not getting comfortable with this position, because I know what he’s capable of.”

LECLERC: I WAS GREEDY

FORMULA One championship leader Charles Leclerc has been copping it from everyone after admitting that greed got the better of him and he stuffed up at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

Although he still leads Max Verstappen by 27 points in the drivers’ championship, Leclerc confessed that he threw away seven more points with a rookie error that could have been a lot worse.

In third spot late in the race, with a fourth straight podium finish seemingly in the bag, Leclerc made a late push to try and take second spot off Sergio Perez, one of the best defenders in Formula One.

But his gamble backfired when he hit a kerb and spun into the barriers, damaging his car, which prompted Ferrari to order him back to the garage for some running repairs to the front wing.

Leclerc was lucky his race didn’t end there and said he learnt a valuable lesson after recovering to finish sixth.

“I was too greedy and I paid the price for it,” Leclerc said.

Charles Leclerc missed out on seven possible points
Charles Leclerc missed out on seven possible points

“I lost seven potential points, compared to my third place I was before, so it is a shame.

“It’s seven points that are valuable at the end of the championship for sure. And this shouldn’t happen again.

“All points count. And today I have put away seven points against the 15 we had if we were third. I will learn for the future. It is the way it is, I have analysed the data. I know what I have done and I will move on.”

No-one needs to tell Leclerc how important it is that he minimises any mistakes like that if he wants to beat Verstappen for the world title - but that hasn’t stopped them reminding him.

The 24-year-old’s ears will be burning with the number of people warning him that Verstappen isn’t going to give up his world title easily after his ferocious battle with Lewis Hamilton last year.

Nico Rosberg - who also beat Hamilton aftera season-long scrap to win the 2016 world title - led the chorus when said he couldn’t believe Leclerc’s foolish error.

“Charles Leclerc oh my God, I mean if you are fighting for a championship against Max Verstappen, you just cannot allow yourself to spin out there when you are just driving on your own,” Rosberg said.

“Yes he was hunting down Perez, but the pressure was on Perez not on Charles, so to spin like that, my goodness, he has to avoid that for the rest of the season if he wants to win this championship.”

But Rosberg said Ferrari also needed to step up and share some of the blame for the points Leclerc missed out on when they brought him back into the team garage to repair his car instead of leaving him out there in third place with only a few laps to go.

“I think Ferrari also made a mistake,” Rosberg said.

“They should have left him out for one more lap to see how that front wing is hanging on there, because it looked fine structurally, it was just the right-hand side flap that was missing.

“So that could have been okay to still finish at least fourth in the race, so I think Ferrari did a small mistake there.”

Originally published as Emilia Romagna Grand Prix F1: Mercedes car so bad George Russell is having chest pains