The struggling Mercedes has resigned itself to being sidelined from the title chase


Lewis Hamilton’s bid to reclaim his world title was written off by team-mate George Russell after he warned Mercedes would have to “take big leaps rather than baby steps” if they want to get back into this year’s title race.

But he added that he doesn’t see any dramatic improvements in the short to medium term.

Russell (24) replaced Valtteri Bottas as Hamilton team-mate in the winter, with expectations that the Brackley team – fresh from a record eighth consecutive constructor spell last season – would be back again this season.

But the first two races have been a sobering experience for Toto Wolff’s all-conquering team, who have lagged far behind Ferrari and Red Bull.

Hamilton and Russell secured third and fourth places respectively in the season opener in Bahrain two weekends ago, but only after both Red Bulls were eliminated in the final laps.

And they fell to 10th and 5th at Sunday’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, where they fell by almost a second a lap from the leaders for parts of the race.

Seven-time world champion Hamilton was tied by a point with Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll. The 37-year-old admitted he didn’t even have the pace in the final laps to take on Kevin Magnussen’s Haas.

“We’re definitely not out there, but if we don’t find improvements [soon] There’s no way we’re going to be able to fight for that championship,” Russell said. “We came out of the first two races as the third best team and if we keep going like this for the next five, six, seven races we’re still within reach and there’s no reason we can’t flip it.

“But right now we’re taking small steps and need to make some big leaps and we’re struggling to find the silver bullet to solve the problems we’re having. I have no doubt if we do that we will find a chunk of lap time but it’s easier said than done.”

Hamilton conceded after the race that the W13 was slow across the board and needed both more grip and more power. But the teams only have a short amount of time before heading to Australia next week and Russell said he didn’t expect Mercedes to make any of those “big leaps” by then.

“I see no reason why we should make any progress,” he said. “We are the third fastest team, closer to fourth than second so it will be similar in the coming races.”

Meanwhile, Formula 1 has told Saudi Arabia it needs to do more to convince drivers and teams it’s safe to race there before showdown talks about the fate of the country’s grand prix .

F1 bosses have demanded from the Saudis a full disclosure of the real threat posed by the Yemeni Houthi rebel group, which bombed an oil refinery 10 miles from the Jeddah circuit.

The attack nearly resulted in drivers and teams boycotting the event, and it took a four-hour meeting Friday night to persuade them to race after Saudi authorities shared details of their missile defense systems.

However, world champion Verstappen made it clear after Sunday’s race that a GP scheduled for a decade was not the end of the matter.

F1 bosses are believed to have no plans to review the reported $900m contract but accept that the fate of the race will depend on further discussions with drivers and teams in the coming weeks and weeks months could depend.

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022] The struggling Mercedes has resigned itself to being sidelined from the title chase

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