Senior Red Bull advisor Dr Helmut Marko believes that Sir Lewis Hamilton has yet to show the best of himself in 2022, and has said George Russell must improve further to match the seven-time champion.
Mercedes have been a long way off the front-runners thus far in 2022, as they have been caught out by the “porpoising” issues posed by the ground effect aerodynamics under the all-new technical regulations.
A considerable margin ahead of them are Red Bull and Ferrari, who have exchanged blows early on in the season as Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen became embroiled in fascinating on-track battles in both Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
The Monegasque led team-mate Carlos Sainz home in Sakhir, before the reigning world champion bounced back from his late reliability failure in Sakhir to claim victory in Jeddah a week later.
Both drivers have revealed the abundance of respect they have for each other having raced one another for years through the junior series, and Dr Marko is riveted by the already-enthralling championship fight.
“In terms of sport, this world championship could be the best in a long time,” he told the Osterreich Newspaper.
Russell has suggested that his team can still be “within striking distance” even if their struggles persist for the next “five, six, seven, eight races,” but the Austrian does not see the eight-time constructors’ champions involving themselves in the title battle any time soon.
“I can’t imagine that yet, no,” he stated.
“They first have to get rid of their bouncing, and only then can they go into detail,” he explained after the comments from Mercedes trackside engineer Andrew Shovlin that there is “a little bit of everything” wrong with the Brackley-made machine.
Formula 1 travels to Melbourne this weekend for the 25th Australian Grand Prix, and the organisers have been busy in the two years away redesigning the Albert Park Circuit.
F1 confirmed on Monday that there are now 14 corners on the track, as the slow chicane at Turns Nine and 10 has been completely abandoned to make way for a flowing run into the high-speed chicane at the end of the middle sector.
There will also be greater overtaking opportunities at Turn Three and Turn 11, and the smoother run through Six and Seven leads onto one of an astonishing four DRS zones on the track, making the circuit circa five seconds faster than before.
It is evident that the track will feature much more flat-out sections and bigger stops than it has before, and this is something that would appear to have suited Red Bull’s car better in the opening two rounds of the season.
However, the 78-year-old is not ready to consider his team favourites for the race until he is able to get a proper look at the new layout and the track surface.
“That depends on the asphalt surface. Since we haven’t been to Australia for two years, nobody knows what it looks like at the moment,” Dr Marko affirmed.
Russell was eight tenths quicker than Hamilton in Saudi Arabia as the 37-year-old found himself out of qualifying in the first phase, and the 24-year-old finished fifth while his team-mate came home in P10.
Despite the disparity between them in Jeddah, Dr Marko is not convinced that Russell has reached his team-mate’s level yet.
“Russell hasn’t come close to Hamilton’s level yet,” he added.
“Lewis completely messed up in Bahrain and since then he’s been struggling with the setup and getting the tyres in the right temperature window.”
Mercedes are set to bring a new rear wing to Melbourne, and they will join Ferrari and Red Bull in bringing key upgrades to the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix two weeks later.