The seven-time world champion and George Russell was visibly Brazil’s fastest car a week ago, helping Russell to a maiden Formula 1 win.
But team principal Toto Wolff said the idea of finishing the season on a high at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday – and thereby securing Hamilton’s record of winning a race each season of his F1 career – was highly unlikely.
“I think Abu Dhabi on paper is a lot harder for us because we’re always so laggy, but we know why,” Wolff said.
His stance was echoed by Russell, who said he expected Max Verstappen to run away with the win to cap off a dominant season for Red Bull.
“Going into Abu Dhabi, I think we will probably be similar, in my instincts, to Ferrari,” he said. “I think maybe a small step behind Red Bull.
“Max and Red Bull are going to be fast here. I think the combination of low speed corners and long straights is going to suit their car really well. But we will continue to go there. »
Russell will enter the winter as one of three men to beat Hamilton as a team-mate in the F1 Drivers’ Championship, following in the footsteps of Jenson Button and Nico Rosberg.
The numbers are slightly skewed in his favor due to the fact that when Mercedes struggled earlier in the season, it was Hamilton who took the more extreme car setups to the races in a bid to address those issues. – often to his detriment.
This approach is credited with helping accelerate Mercedes’ return to the top of the grid last week, with Russell believing the team can now continue to do more.
“The progress we’ve made as a team is just amazing,” he said. “Since Austin, we have fought as a team for victory – or had the opportunity to win – in every race. So the boost he gave us all and the confidence he has given back to everyone at the factory, the factory will pump over the winter.
“We are going to give everything we have to go out in this very first test with a car that can compete from the first race.