Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton is happy his old team McLaren is competitive in Formula One again, even if it is at his expense.
The seven-time champion lost an all-British tussle to McLaren’s Lando Norris for second place in their home grand prix on Sunday. Norris even overtook all-conquering Red Bull driver Max Verstappen at the start to lead the race briefly. Getting the better of Verstappen has been almost impossible this season.
On the fast tracks like Silverstone, Norris said, “We’re almost on a par with what Red Bull can achieve.”
The McLaren car was quick in qualifying Saturday and on race day, he added: “We definitely seem to maintain our performance when others seem to take a bit of a hit.”
Not bad for a team which didn’t score any points at five of the first eight GP weekends.
Hamilton described the McLaren car — which is newly competitive after an aerodynamic upgrade — as a “rocket ship” and sent “big congratulations to Lando and to McLaren, where it was my family, where I first started.”
“It was a great battle we had but it’s really amazing to see the McLaren back up in competitive form,” Hamilton said. “It’s been such a long time.”
Hamilton was the last driver to win the championship for McLaren in 2008.
The McLaren might just be the car Mercedes could have had.
It uses the same Mercedes engines but with an aerodynamic package which resembles the dominant Red Bull of Verstappen, especially after upgrades first used by Norris at the previous race in Austria. McLaren had scored just 17 points all season before then. Now it has 59.
Mercedes, by contrast, has struggled since opting to design its 2022 car around small, sleek side pods.
That seemed daring when first revealed last year but has arguably hampered Mercedes’ options to improve and made it harder to follow innovations from other teams like Red Bull with more conventional designs.
McLaren was also racing in Britain with a chromed livery harking back to the Silver Arrows look with Mercedes engines when McLaren won titles in the 1990s and 2000s.
Though Norris was full of praise for the car’s high-speed performance, he admitted it remains “pretty terrible in the slow-speed corners, extremely difficult to drive.”
That won’t help at the next race on July 23 in Hungary, where the average speedis among the slowest of any F1 circuit.
“We’re getting excited and I accept that,” Norris said. “But we’re going to go to a couple of tracks where I’m sure people are going to be saying ‘What have you done now? Like, how has it got so bad all of a sudden?’”