Lewis Hamilton says Mercedes is a second a lap off the pace in race trim and faces a bigger deficit to Red Bull than it did in 2022 heading into the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Mercedes struggled tremendously with porpoising last season but improved through the year to win a race, and was targeting further progress with its new car this year. However, despite solving the porpoising issue it was lacking the pace of Red Bull and Aston Martin in Friday practice, and Hamilton says the team has learned how big a task it faces in 2023.

“We found out we’re a long way off, so… we kind of knew that a little bit in the test, but it’s a big gap,” Hamilton said after finishing FP2 in eighth place. “I’m trying everything we can out there. It is what it is, we just have to work at it.

“Neither (long or short runs felt good), honestly. They’re very, very similar. We’re offset in low and in high fuel, so… to Red Bull, looking at the long runs, they’re a second a lap faster. Yeah, we’ve got a lot to work on.

“I think I got the car to the best place I can get it set-up wise, we’ll continue to tweak little bits here and there. But it’ll be small bits, which is milliseconds, not the closing of a gap of a second. Nonetheless we’ll keep our heads down tonight, go through the data, work and progress tomorrow. We’ve got to find out if there’s any way we can add performance tonight.”

Hamilton hinted that the Mercedes zero-sidepod concept could be an area of concern after seeing such strong pace from another Mercedes-powered team in Aston Martin.

“On the long run we’re quite close to Ferrari, it looks like Aston is second, then we’re between third or fourth,” he said. “So we’re kind of where we were last year, or a little bit further behind.

“It’s difficult for everybody, and not where anyone at the team wants to be, or where everyone at the team deserves to be because everyone works so hard and really is so courageous and thoughtful in their process. But we’re just on the wrong track, so we’ve got to continue to graft a way and find a way to get ourselves on the right track. But we’re a long way off the guys in front.

“I have to be hopeful. I think there was good progress through last year, but the gap wasn’t as big as it is now. So, do I believe we can close the gap at some stage? Yes. But… I think it’s quite hard with the concept we have.”

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