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Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton. Picture: MARK THOMPSON/GETTY IMAGES
Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton. Picture: MARK THOMPSON/GETTY IMAGES

Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton expressed concern about Red Bull’s continued dominance and questioned whether Mercedes could close the gap in 2024 after Formula One’s Abu Dhabi season-ender on Sunday.

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen took a record 19th victory in 22 Grands Prix, and his 21st podium of the year, as his team closed out the most dominant of campaigns, having won all but one of the races.

The manner of the Dutch driver’s final victory of the campaign provided little reassurance for those hoping for closer competition in 2024, with Verstappen 17.993sec clear of Ferrari runner-up Charles Leclerc.

Once-dominant Mercedes finished second in the constructors’ championship, but with less than half the points scored by Red Bull.

“It’s not been a great year. There’s not a lot to take from the year in general,” Hamilton told Sky Sports television after finishing ninth, with teammate George Russell third. “The fact that I survived it, probably that’s about it.

“At this moment I don’t really know,” he added, when asked whether he believed Mercedes could challenge with 2024’s car. “For Red Bull to win by 17sec in the end and they haven’t even developed their car since August is definitely a concern.

“But we’ve learnt a lot about the car and it’s just down to the team now. They know what they need to do. Whether we will get there, we will see.”

Team boss and co-owner Toto Wolff sounded more optimistic, despite Mercedes ending a season winless for the first time since 2011. “This day feels like you’ve won and that’s great.

“We’ve got to be happy about that but also as a racer, you want more, but today we won,” he said of the battle with Ferrari for second overall.

“We have a gap to the leaders, but the two [Mercedes] teams in Brackley and Brixworth [engines] are so motivated, we have so many good things in the pipeline, so many new things.

“I am in a really good place to see what’s coming together. We’ve got to take the momentum from here and take that momentum into the factories.” 

Meanwhile, Red Bull’s Sergio Perez was given a formal warning for calling Formula One stewards “a joke” over the team radio after they gave him a 5sec penalty in Abu Dhabi.

The sanction demoted the Mexican from second at the chequered flag, and a one-two with teammate Verstappen, to fourth.

“The stewards are a joke, man,” Perez said on his slowing down lap. “I cannot believe it. They have been very bad this year, but this is a joke. That was really a joke.”

Stewards summoned the driver to a postrace hearing and handed him a warning.

“The stewards explained to the driver that they had no issue with someone disagreeing with their decisions, however, comments that amount to personal insults are a breach of the International Sporting Code,” they said in a statement.

They noted Perez has made “a genuine and sincere apology” to each of them, explaining he made the comments in the heat of the moment and had not considered them being broadcast to a wider audience.

“The stewards also note that the driver is not known for making such comments and has always been extremely respectful in stewards hearings,” they said.

“The driver, team manager and the stewards had a constructive discussion about the use and broadcast of team radio messages.

“The incident itself was also reviewed in detail with the driver and though he still disagreed with the decision, he stated he could understand the stewards’ perspective of the incident.”


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