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Lewis Hamilton vows to “hunt down” Max Verstappen amid Bahrain Grand Prix defeatism

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton has given himself little chance of victory in the Bahrain Grand Prix but has set out his plans to beat Max Verstappen over the course of the season.

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F1 preview: A lap of the Bahrain Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton has vowed to “hunt down” Max Verstappen and the Ferraris despite admitting he has no chance of winning today’s Bahrain Grand Prix.

The seven-times Formula 1 world champion described his Mercedes team as not being in the same league as Red Bull and Ferrari after finishing fifth in yesterday’s qualifying.

But while repeating his assertion that he cannot win the season-opening race, Hamilton said he is relishing the challenge of reeling them in race by race. Hamilton said: “Those guys ahead of us are on another level at the moment but we’ve made some improvements and we’re closer so I’m proud of what we’ve achieved and where we’ve got to.

“I hope we’ll make another step next week and bit by bit, we’ll hunt those guys down. The improvements come from our collective efforts, we’re working as hard as we can and I know it’s a long, long way to go but I love a challenge.”

And even though Hamilton has discounted his chances of winning at the Sakhir circuit this afternoon, he does not intend to make life easy for the front four, who are headed by Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen on the front row, with Leclerc’s team-mate Carlos Sainz and Red Bull’s Sergio Perez on the second row.

Hamilton said: “We’re not quick enough to win but I told you that before the weekend. But there’s a lot to play for at the start, and with strategy, so I hope I can at least stay with them and stay in the fight.”

After a hugely disappointing qualifying performance, Hamilton’s running partner, George Russell, who will start from ninth on the grid, is aiming to quickly move himself into the top six after the start. The 24-year-old Englishman said: “The pace of our car is definitely behind Ferrari and Red Bull, and ahead of the rest of the midfield, so my target is to get ahead of that group.”

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Lewis Hamilton lost out to Max Verstappen last season but the Dutchman’s victory was not without controversy
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Image:

James Moy Photography/PA Images)

And Russell drew long-term encouragement from the fact that Mercedes were still trying to cling to the coat-tails of Ferrari and Red Bull. He explained: “The only promising thing is we have major issues and we’re still the third-fastest team. If we were in this position and everything felt great, then we’d be a little bit puzzled.”

While Leclerc pipped Verstappen to pole position, the world champion is a hot favourite to win the first race on the 2022 calendar. And he is now most experts’ idea of the 2022 world champion while Red Bull are well-fancied to end a run of eight constructors’ championships for Mercedes. But Toto Wolff gave a reminder that Red Bull were faster in the early stages of last season.

The Mercedes team principal said: “Realistically, we are missing about half a second on a single lap. Let’s see in the race – whatever happens, we’re gathering valuable learning. We have been in difficult situations in the past and last year we were four tenths off Max at the first race, so we just have to keep our heads down and find the performance.”

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