Lewis Hamilton was noticeably off the pace at the Bahrain Grand Prix, qualifying in fifth before benefiting from Red Bull’s misfortune to finish up on the podium
Image: Getty Images)
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff thinks fuel prices will come crashing down before Lewis Hamilton wins the the world title again.
Between 2014 and 2020, all seven drivers’ championships went the way of the Silver Arrows, with six of them being won by Hamilton. The exception to his dominance came in 2016, when team-mate Nico Rosberg prevailed.
That run was ended in controversial circumstances last year by Red Bull driver Max Verstappen, following the dubious safety car procedure that marred the season ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. However, it was Mercedes who still notched an eighth successive constructors’ title via Hamilton and former driver Valtteri Bottas.
However, alarm bells are now ringing for Wolff and co. New technical regulations have been introduced into the sport this season, designed to make racing more competitive, forcing all teams to make major adaptations to their cars.
And Mercedes appear to have struggled, badly off the pace in the second round of pre-season testing in Bahrain. Sure enough, at the opening race of the season in the same country, Hamilton and George Russell could only qualify fifth and ninth respectively.
Both drivers did benefit from both Verstappen and team-mate Sergio Perez retiring with fuel pump problems, with the seven-time world champion notching a podium finish behind the Ferrari duo of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz. Russell, in his first race since joining the team from Williams, was fourth.
It is unlikely though, that the Silver Arrows will be able to bridge the gap in time for the second race in Saudi Arabia this weekend, and now Wolff, 50, has made a bleak prediction over Hamilton’s title ambitions. The F1 icon is still seeking an eighth championship title, which would see him stand alone as the most successful competitor of all time.
In an interview with German publication Bild, Wolff was asked: “Mr. Wolff, what do you think is more realistic: that the price of petrol in Germany will fall back to 1.50 euros or that Lewis Hamilton will win his eighth world title in Formula 1 first?”
The Austrian’s reply wasn’t signified by positivity. “Phew, hard to say. I don’t think the price of oil will change much in the future, but if OPEC [Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries] agrees to open production, things can happen quickly.
“That’s why I say: First, the price of fuel will go down again.” Of course, it’s not just Germany embroiled in a problem with rising fuel costs amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
As of yesterday, British people were paying an average of 165.2p a litre for petrol, and 177.2p a litre for diesel. Chancellor Rishi Sunak has cut fuel duty by 5p a litre, which hasn’t altered the perception amongst the public that the Government should be doing more to tackle the problem.
For Wolff and Hamilton though, the primary focus will be on the race at the Jeddah Street Circuit this weekend. And the team principal conceded he couldn’t see the team’s issues being sorted in time to challenge: “I don’t expect any enlightening insights from the second race in Saudi Arabia,” he added.