Lewis Hamilton told Mercedes on Sunday they need to give him a better car or else wreck his chances of winning an eighth world title.
That was the Briton’s cry after losing the Styrian Grand Prix to Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who so dominated at the foot of the Alps, amid the region’s sylvan hills, that the ‘action’ sent the local cows to sleep but acted as a jolting alarm call to Hamilton and Mercedes.
The only snag — and it’s a big one — is that Hamilton’s boss, Toto Wolff, insists there will be no upgrades to the car.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen celebrates winning the Styrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring
Verstappen took second ahead of Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton (left) and Valtteri Bottas
The Mercedes drivers soak the race winner in champagne on the podium after the race
In effect, he is telling his star driver he has to take on his Dutch challenger with the inferior equipment in which he trailed home in a lonely second place. With eight rounds of 23 down, Hamilton trails Verstappen by 18 points.
‘We still have many races ahead of us and have to keep pushing,’ said the defending champion. ‘We are the world champions and we can improve if we put our minds to it.
‘But if we are not going to develop and improve our car, this is the kind of result you are going to see.’
To which Wolff said: ‘We have no upgrades coming this year. When we look back in five or 10 years, time will tell whether it was the right or wrong decision.’ So the two men are in dispute.
Wolff, of course, is conflicted because next year brings a massive rejig of the regulations. New cars, new engines. So the preparation requires research and development.
Verstappen celebrates on top of his Red Bull car after winning the race in Spielberg
Red Bull team members congratulate Verstappen on his performance after a dominant win
Hamilton had no answer for Red Bull’s pace as he investigates his car after the race
That would be more manageable for Mercedes were it not for the introduction of a cost cap.
They cannot chuck limitless money at fighting on two fronts. A lid on spending of £105million this year, £100m next and £97m in 2023 has put paid to that. Wolff feels he needs to strike a balance between the current championship and the new era that dawns next season.
Hamilton understands that. To a point. But after Verstappen galloped away here, lapping all but the top four, Wolff’s compromise seems a bitter reality to accept.
Yes, Hamilton finished 35 seconds behind the Red Bull, albeit a margin exaggerated by his taking a second stop to be reshod on fresh tyres to claim the point for setting the fastest lap.
Hamilton and Bottas found themselves on the back foot in their battle with Red Bull
Despite fears over a brake pedal issue, Verstappen comfortably strolled to victory in Austria
Hamilton, who started second, said: ‘They were way too fast for us. I knew we were going to be behind on single-lap pace. I gave it everything I could, but they have obviously made some very good steps over these past few races.
‘We will work as hard as we can to see if we can squeeze any more juice out of this car.
‘I am pushing everyone as hard as possible to get us performance. I am proud of the work we were able to do this week but we were just not quick enough.
Verstappen led away comfortably at the start, seeing off the Hamilton charge
‘We would love an upgrade but it is not in the pipeline at the moment.’
In fairness, Wolff is not conceding defeat. He said his team had other weapons in their armoury, whatever that means.
And perhaps he is playing games by overstating their technological stagnation to lull Red Bull into a similar frame of mind. There will also, as Wolff again pointed out, be tracks that suit Mercedes and they should hardly be written off.
As for the race here on Sunday, what a bore!
That feeling was accentuated by the rich fare we have feasted on this season. Verstappen, who started on pole, led every single lap. Hamilton knew he needed rain to have any chance of wresting victory, and said as much on Saturday night.
Charles Leclerc had to pit for a new front wing on the first lap before making an incredible recovery drive to finish seventh for Ferrari
With 20 laps remaining, he asked: ‘What should I do, I can’t close the gap?’ There was no real answer from the pit wall, just vague encouragement to look after his tyres.
He also inquired, as the race petered out, whether the clouds would indeed come to his rescue. The radar said no. Behind Hamilton in third place was team-mate Valtteri Bottas, with Red Bull’s Sergio Perez fourth and McLaren’s Lando Norris fifth.
A word of commiseration about George Russell, who was on target for his first points finish in a sluggish Williams. He started 10th and got as high as seventh before an engine problem struck and he retired. The mood at the British team was sepulchral.
Red Bull staff celebrate on the fence by the pitlane as Verstappen takes the chequered flag
Suffolk-born Russell said: ‘Racing is brutal. I am gutted for the team. They have worked so hard over the past three years chasing these points. They deserved to catch a break.
‘S*** happens. It is not the first time a car has been retired and it will not be the last.
‘Those four or six points we might have got are massive. It is probably the difference between finishing eighth and 10th in the championship. We go again next week.’
Yes, the circus returns here to the Red Bull Ring this coming weekend, a double-header that leaves Mercedes with a lot to do in short order to meet Hamilton’s demands, even if they choose to.