Lewis Hamilton has caused a stir by claiming that this year’s Mercedes is not far off his calamitous McLaren of 2009. The admission of weakness would seemingly refute previous claims made by his bitter rival, Max Verstappen, which suggest that Hamilton’s haul of seven world titles is due to him having the best car in the field.
F1 fans have been denied round two of Hamilton versus Verstappen this year after a classic title showdown in 2021. Mercedes’ porpoising issues have left them miles off the pace, and the veteran Brit has not been shy in voicing his complaints.
Over the years, Verstappen has alluded to the notion that Hamilton’s glittering CV is, in large part, due to a major performance advantage over the rest of the field. Last year, he pointed out that some drivers ‘have had a bit more luck in general to be in a good car for a longer time’.
But Hamilton has taken the opportunity presented by this year’s struggles to point out that he has not always had it easy. “There are people that watch and say I’ve never had a bad car, and I can assure you that I have,” he told The Race.
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“2009’s car was very, very far off – the worst car that I’ve had. This car currently is not far off that experience. It was brand new era of car [in 2009] and I remember coming back in January to the team and the head of aerodynamics saying ‘we’ve already hit our target’.
“The new rules said we would have 50 per cent less downforce in 2009, so they designed a car to have 50 per cent less downforce. I remember in February them saying we’ve already hit our target, and I remember being like ‘that doesn’t sound right’. But I didn’t have the experience at the time. We got to the first test and realised others had almost as much downforce as the previous year and we were like ‘oh shoot, we’ve got work to regain that’.”
Indeed, the 2009 season started terribly for Hamilton who failed to finish better than P5 over the first three race weekends. A team recovery over the second half of the season saw the Brit wind up fifth in the Drivers’ Championship, and he may well be gunning for a similar outcome this year as he sits in seventh spot.
Hamilton’s struggles have been brought into sharp focus this season, as he has not outperformed new team-mate George Russell since the opening race weekend in Bahrain. Last time out, he could not find the pace to force his way through a DRS train and crossed the line 13th in Emilia-Romagna.
Verstappen’s suggestion that Hamilton has had it smooth sailing for much of his career is not the only instance of fired shots over the past few years. Back in 2018, when the Dutchman was still fairly new to F1 and his rivalry with the 37-year-old had not yet taken its true form, he appeared to take a swipe at both Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.
“Most drivers would have become world champions in that  car,” he told AD.nl. “Especially if you have a team-mate next to you who is not so fast.”