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‘We’re the fourth fastest team now’ – Hamilton offers honest Mercedes assessment as he admits the team are ‘going backwards’

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Lewis Hamilton was left in no doubt that Mercedes have fallen further away from the front of the F1 field in 2023 after a lonely run to fifth position in the season opening Bahrain Grand Prix.

Following a rollercoaster 2022 campaign, Mercedes stuck to their guns and continued with a unique ‘zero sidepod’ design, but found themselves behind Red Bull, Ferrari and Aston Martin over the course of the Sakhir weekend.

READ MORE: Verstappen leads 1-2 in Bahrain season opener as Leclerc retires and Alonso takes final podium place in style

Indeed, the Mercedes machines were more than half a second off the pace in qualifying-trim, while the lead W14 of Hamilton on race day crossed the line some 50 seconds away from race winner and reigning world champion Max Verstappen.

While his race featured “fun” battles with Fernando Alonso – at the start and a later multi-lap wheel-to-wheel scrap – Hamilton stated that Mercedes’ pace simply wasn’t “fast enough” to compete for more.

Reflecting on his race, which benefitted from Charles Leclerc’s late retirement, Hamilton said: “I genuinely loved the racing. I had a great start, got Fernando in Turn 4 and I was like, ‘Oh jeez, this is a great start to the race’. It felt like one of my better opening laps.

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Race Highlights: 2023 Bahrain Grand Prix

“Then I just was sliding around. I had so much understeer at the beginning, I took so much wing out, I couldn’t get around some of the corners, and I just couldn’t keep up with the guys ahead.

“My middle stint was good and then at the end I was so close to catching Carlos [Sainz for fourth position], but [it was] not good enough.”

READ MORE: Leclerc calls on Ferrari to ‘understand what went wrong’ after painful Bahrain GP retirement

Asked if catching Sainz late on gives him hope that Mercedes can mix it with the likes of Ferrari going forward, Hamilton responded: “We definitely can’t fight them at the moment – they were much quicker than us, as were the Astons.

“We’re the fourth fastest team now, as opposed to the third last year. We’re going backwards, [so] we really have a lot of work to do to close that gap.”

Hamilton’s team mate, George Russell, came home in seventh position, behind the other Aston Martin of Lance Stroll – leaving Mercedes third in the constructors’ standings after race one.

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