By Philip Duncan, PA F1 Correspondent
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff believes Lewis Hamilton’s new car could fire him into world championship contention.
Hamilton delivered his best performance of the season at Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix after fighting back from an opening-lap collision with Kevin Magnussen to finish fifth.
Hamilton might be 64 points behind new championship leader Max Verstappen following the Dutchman’s third triumph in as many rounds at Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya.
— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) May 22, 2022
But with 416 points still on the table and Mercedes suddenly back in the groove, Wolff is hopeful Hamilton can get back into the title hunt.
“That looked like a world championship-winning race car that Lewis was driving,” said Wolff.
“His race pace was stunning and [without the first-lap incident] he would have challenged for the win.
“It reminded me of last year and the years before, when a car and driver are really on the top of their game. The race was so important for his morale and our morale, too.
“The car was like previous seasons, where you are more than 30 seconds behind the whole field, and you come all the way to the front and near the podium. That is very encouraging and shows that we’ve made another step.”
Wolff’s declaration comes just four weeks after the Austrian apologised to Hamilton for an “undriveable” car in Imola. Hamilton finished 13th and a lap behind Verstappen.
But Mercedes’ first major upgrade of the 22-race campaign might have rescued their season.
Wolff added: “It is better than I expected because I am pessimistic. But we have pulled clear from the midfield, and we have caught up by half-a-second to the frontrunners, when we were a second off in Miami. There is more to come and more understanding which we can unlock in the car.
“We have two unbelievable drivers and the right guys to sort our car out and bring us back to the front.”
— Formula 1 (@F1) May 23, 2022
Indeed, Hamilton’s team-mate George Russell continued his fine start to life at Mercedes by finishing third and securing his second podium in six races. Russell is 36 points back from Verstappen and 28 points clear of Hamilton.
“We have turned the corner,” said Russell, 24. “We have now got a baseline to build upon.
“We spent so long to find the true foundation of the car but now we have found it.
“We are not there just yet but we are definitely in the mix and we can put up a fight with the Ferraris and the Red Bulls if we find ourselves in front of them.”