Lewis Hamilton fears a swift return to the Formula One winners’ circle could be scuppered by the heavy rain forecast to hit Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix.
Hamilton, who finished second to Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel at the opening race of the season in Melbourne, is one of the finest wet-weather drivers the sport has seen.
But the triple world champion did not participate in last month’s wet test in Barcelona after Mercedes cited a problem with his car. Hamilton had joked the previous evening that he would fake a muscle injury to avoid taking part.
The wet tyres this year are considerably wider following sweeping changes to the technical rulebook, and Hamilton believes he could be at a disadvantage heading into the second round of the championship.
“I am not really looking forward to a wet track because I haven’t driven on the new tyres,” said Hamilton, who will be among only a handful of drivers yet to trial this year’s wet-weather rubber. “Usually I like driving in the wet, but I am a little bit apprehensive.
“If you had to bolt them on for qualifying right now I have never driven them before. It is a much bigger tyre this year and there is a big risk that in the wet you damage the car. I have only got four engines and we have got a shortage of parts.
“I might go out and it might be exactly the same as it has been in the past, but that is unlikely. I have really got to learn as much as I can in a short period of time
“But I do relish the challenge and I believe if anyone is able to do it, I can, so I will figure it out.”
Hamilton, 32, was speaking from the comfort of the Mercedes’ motorhome as rain fell for much of the afternoon in Shanghai. A similar forecast is expected to play out over the remainder of the weekend.
The Briton, who arrived in China on Sunday following a whistle-stop tour of Abu Dhabi, Hong Kong and Macau, trails Vettel in the championship after he claimed his and Ferrari’s first victory in 18 months.
Ferrari have traditionally fared well at Albert Park, but the Shanghai International Circuit and its two long straights will suit Hamilton’s Mercedes engine. As such, this weekend’s race will be a stern test of the Italian team’s championship credentials.
“At the end of the day they won the race in Melbourne, and they did a better job, so we have got to do a better job here,” Hamilton added. “Their car is stronger in certain areas and our car is stronger in other areas, so that is what is going to make this season exciting.”
Indeed, Vettel’s victory has given Ferrari, who have been starved of championship glory for a decade, hope that they may finally end their title drought. The four-time champion, however, insists Hamilton’s Mercedes team are still the team to beat.
“Mercedes has to be the favourite,” said Vettel. “We had a strong first race but we really go race by race.
“We know we have a good package which puts us in a good place, but we know there are a lot of things we need to do to keep up with them and keep up with the position we are in now to fight for good races.
“The victory is the best medicine for everyone. It is good we did that but we move on.”