DUBAI: Lewis Hamilton believes he is close to winning again while Carlos Sainz Jr. is hungry for another Formula One victory heading into this weekend’s Austrian Prix.
It took Sainz 150 races to finally win at a crash-marred Silverstone last Sunday, when Hamilton collected a second straight podium to underline how the Mercedes upgrades are paying off.
The seven-time F1 champion has won at least one race in each of the past 15 seasons in F1 and needs one more win to eclipse Michael Schumacher and set another record, to go with 103 wins and 103 pole positions. But Hamilton’s Mercedes team struggled to adapt to the new F1 rules and “ground effect” — where the floor generates aerodynamic grip and causes bouncing.
Back-to-back podiums make him confident a first win is approaching, after last winning 12 races ago at the penultimate race of 2021 in Saudi Arabia.
“With a little bit more digging and a little bit more hard work hopefully we can get a bit closer. I truly believe we can get a race win this year,” Hamilton said. “Earlier this year definitely I wasn’t sure we would ever get a win in this car.”
His pace at Silverstone, where a safety car thwarted possible victory, further underlined this. But he still feels Sainz’s Ferrari and the Red Bull of championship leader Max Verstappen are faster.
“Definitely at Silverstone there was potential to win the race, but with our current performance we’re not at exactly the same level as the two teams ahead,” he said. “We needed everything to align (at Silverstone) so we didn’t need that safety car at the end. I think things all happen for a reason. I think it was Carlos’ weekend, it was written he’d get his first win.”
Sainz’s father is Carlos Sainz Sr. — a two-time rally champion with 26 race wins.
Now his son knows how it feels to join the winners’ circle, and he wants more.
“This win has given me more and more hunger to do it again as soon as possible, and to keep fighting for wins,” the 27-year-old Sainz said. “It’s very personal and it’s difficult to describe what goes inside someone’s head. I can just tell you that it feels great, that it has sunk in little by little.”
Schumacher’s son — Mick Schumacher — also got a first taste of success last weekend.
Well, of sorts, since it was the first time the 23-year-old German scored points in F1 after starting 31 races.
His eighth-place finish earned him four points and he almost overtook Verstappen at the end. Four-time F1 champion Sebastian Vettel, a family friend, was cheering behind him in the final laps. Afterward, Schumacher’s sister interrupted her younger brother’s post-race interview and sprayed him with Champagne.
Schumacher said he’s been floating with “a nice and happy attitude” since then.
It was a performance he really needed, after two DNF’s in the three previous races led to some observers questioning his F1 future, and even more impressive considering he started from 19th.
“At the end it made those points so much sweeter,” Schumacher said.
Charles Leclerc left the British GP bitterly disappointed and struggling to contain his frustration.
He thought teammate Sainz had not moved aside quickly enough earlier in the race and later on, following a safety car, was baffled his team kept him out for track position rather than bring him in for faster tires.
Team principal Mattia Binotto even appeared to give him a talking to afterward, rather than consoling him.
It’s the second time this season Leclerc has been bemused by team calls, following the decision to pit him for new tires when he led in Monaco — the hardest track for overtaking — and ended up fourth at his home race.
Following a dinner with Binotto in Monaco this week, Leclerc insists there are no divisions within Ferrari.
“This is really untrue. And I wish I didn’t have to get (into this) because this is the exact question I’ve got everywhere else. We are extremely united,” Leclerc said. “There’s some kind of disappointment, too. But there’s not any kind of division inside the team, that’s for sure.”
Leclerc does think Ferrari needed to improve “the communication throughout the race” after what happened at Silverstone and in Monaco.
Silverstone was exasperating for Leclerc because Verstappen dropped points by finishing seventh and Leclerc could have better closed the gap — rather than being 43 points behind heading into Austria.
Leclerc won two of the first three races of the season to pull clear of Verstappen but he’s now third overall. His last podium was second in Miami and since then he’s had two DNF’s, placed fourth twice and fifth once.
“The last five races have been quite hard on me,” Leclerc said. “I just wanted to stay home (after Silverstone), disconnect a bit from everything.”
SPRINT FOR POINTS
Austria is the second race this season featuring a sprint race, where the winner collects eight extra points. Verstappen overtook Leclerc to win it in Imola then won the race with a fastest lap bonus for a maximum of 34 points overall.
The starting order for the sprint race was decided by a qualifying session later Friday after the traditional first practice session led by Verstappen. The finishing order of sprint races then sets the grid for Sunday’s GP.
Verstappen, who has won four times at the Red Bull ring in Spielberg, topped the charts ahead of Leclerc and Mercedes driver George Russell.
Zhou Guanyu, the only Chinese driver in F1, finished 18th for Alfa Romeo, days after emerging unscathed from a crash at Silverstone.
The hour-long practice was twice briefly red-flagged — first when McLaren driver Lando Norris pulled over then after some debris was removed from the track.
The race weekend is sold out with 300,000 fans attending over the three days at the circuit nestled among the rolling hills of Styria.
Zhou’s teammate Valtteri Bottas will start from the back on Sunday after going over an allocated number of engine-part changes.
BUDGETS AND BOUNCING
Team budget caps of $140 million will be increased by a maximum 3.1 percent in 2023 to allow teams to cope with rising inflation, F1 said following a commission meeting.
The 2021 cap of $145 million was reduced again to help smaller teams better compete.
Also, the application of technical directives aimed at further addressing bouncing issues has been moved from the July 22-24 French GP to the Aug. 26-28 Belgian GP, following the summer break. F1 said this gives teams more time to make “updates to plank and skid assemblies.”
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