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Lewis Hamilton has admitted that Mercedes defenders have no hope of defending the title this year after finishing 14th, three places behind his teammate George Russell, in Saturday’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix sprint race.
The seven-time champion was unable to make any progress in the field as he and Russell fought for pace and performance in a shorter race won by Red Bull world champion Max Verstappen.
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“Of course we are not fighting for the championship this year – first of all we have to understand this car, improve and make some progress during the year.” That’s all we can hope for, “admitted Hamilton.
“We all work hard and there are a lot of people on the team for 20 years – so it’s nothing new for them.”
The two Mercedes drivers did not make it to the top ten in qualifying on Friday, which happened to the team for the first time since 2012.
It came after Verstappen recovered from a bad start to fight and win the 21-lap sprint.
Carlos Sainz extends contract with Ferrari | 01:03
The 24-year-old Dutchman, defeated when the lights went out, led the championship leader Charles Leclerc of Ferrari, who avoided his tenacity and pace to regain the lead with two laps left in his Red Bull.
Leclerc, who was struggling with tire wear, returned home second ahead of Sergio Pérez in second Red Bull, Carlos Sainz in second Ferrari and Land Norris of McLaren.
Daniel Ricciardo finished sixth in second McLaren ahead of Valtter Bottas of Alfa Romeo and Kevin Magnussen, who was eighth, the last scoring position for Haas.
“I had a very bad start with too many wheels,” said Verstappen.
“I had to stay calm.” Charles had a faster pace, but he ran out of tires. It may be different tomorrow, but today it turned out well and I was glad to have a clean race. “
Leclerc was philosophical.
“It’s still the beginning of the front row,” he said. “I struggled with the tires, the grains on the left front, so we have to work to get stronger tomorrow.” Ferrari’s support is amazing. “
On a clear and dry afternoon, Leclerc got off to a great start and ran across the field-sitter Verstappen and led to Tamburella with Norris third ahead of Magnussen on medium tires and Perez.
Behind the leading racers, Zhou Guanya tried to overtake Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri on the outside of Piratella, but came in contact and turned into a wall.
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His Alfa Romeo was badly damaged but was not injured while Gasly suffered a defect.
This collision required the Safety Car to clear the debris. After four laps, the race continued and Magnussen received a black and white warning flag on the plain in front of Pérez.
To the delight of the “tifosi” crammed around the circuit, Leclerc drove with textbook perfection to avoid Verstappen, while two Mercedes, much improved in the previous second practice, fought for promotion.
In the 11th lap, Leclerc led by 1.4 seconds, Perez fought his way to third place, lost six seconds, Norris was fourth and Ricciardo finished fifth ahead of Sainz, also on the Ferrari and Magnussen.
Sainz soon overtook Ricciard in fifth place and used his resistance reduction system (DRS) on Tamburell, while Verstappen in front reached Leclerca, which struggled with the graininess of the right front tire.
With the remaining four laps, Ferrari led by seven tenths, but the next two laps had to reflect Red Bull’s braking attacks in Tamburell before Verstappen took the lead.
Sainz, who spent a miserable weekend in Melbourne and crashed in Friday’s practice, proved his courageous recovery skills by finishing Norris in fourth place after starting from 10th on the grid.
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