Race wins are a long way off for Lewis Hamilton, as is an eighth Formula 1 world championship title. The long-time dominators from Mercedes suddenly find themselves in the role of the chaser. At the next race in Australia, that might change.

His daredevil jumps from the plane quickly took Lewis Hamilton’s mind off things. Skydiving in Dubai was the best way for the out-of-control Formula 1 world champion to switch off before the trip to the next race in Australia. “It’s such a great way to clear your head, refocus and concentrate on the week ahead,” the 37-year-old wrote to his 27.5 million followers on Instagram after ten skydives. Once in Melbourne, the Brit posted a joint photo with Mercedes team-mate George Russell from the weight room.

And this picture has symbolic power. “We still have a lot of work to do,” Hamilton said after the poor start to the season. In the world championship duel between defending champion Max Verstappen (Red Bull) and leader Charles Leclerc (Ferrari), the former perennial winner is currently only an extra, his historic eighth world championship title enormously far away. Hamilton was not even able to keep up with the Haas race cars, which were so lame in the previous season, in Saudi Arabia. He finished tenth and had to ask on the radio if there was even a world championship point for that. Hamilton is not used to this region with the Silver Arrows.

Mercedes struggles with new aerodynamic rules

“We were in the middle of the pack at the front for eight years. It’s extremely painful not to be a part of it anymore – and with quite a time gap,” said Mercedes motorsport boss Toto Wolff. The Constructors’ World Champion of the past eight years has to struggle with the brand new aerodynamic rules, which ensure that the car sometimes bounces and loses time as a result. Those who find the right setting for the ground clearance of their car increase their chances enormously. The competitors Red Bull and Ferrari clearly succeeded better in the first two world championship rounds.

“We will not rest until we are back in front”

Naturally, this challenges the factory team’s ambition. “We will not rest until we are back in front,” said Wolff. Technical improvements to Hamilton and Russell’s cars are expected as early as this Sunday when the team returns to Australia, where it has been unable to race for the past two years due to corona. What will these bring? No one knows for sure. “I hope that the gap will get smaller,” Wolff said recently in Saudi Arabia, but at the same time spoke quite openly of “deficits in all areas”. It is “no fun at all” at the moment, said the Austrian, but this “exercise in humility” should make his racing team even stronger in the long run.

“We don’t understand our car that well yet”.

The problem with so-called porpoising is complex, Mercedes agree. It is believed that it is not just about the downforce that presses Hamilton’s company car to the ground on the straights until it briefly touches the asphalt and is thus pushed up again. “We still don’t understand our car as well as we did at the end of last year,” said chief engineer Andrew Shovlin, lamenting the lack of speed. However, he said the right path had already been “taken, it’s just that the step wasn’t big enough”. Now it was a question of “finding a solution more quickly”.

The challenge: While Mercedes is fighting the current difficulties, the competition may already be moving forward. “We need bigger steps,” the 24-year-old Russell also demanded: “When exactly it will be our turn is difficult to say.” As the successor to Finland’s Valtteri Bottas, the Briton actually wanted to be in the fight for victories right from the start and make life difficult for Hamilton. With 22 points, he is already 23 points behind Leclerc in fourth place in the World Championship, with Hamilton a further six points behind in fifth. In third place at the season opener in Bahrain, the 103-time Grand Prix winner has at least been on the podium before – and that is set to become permanent again for the German carmaker. “The season is still incredibly long,” said Wolff.