Lewis Hamilton has fired an ominous warning to his rivals by rating his best ever start to a Formula One season as “average”.
Hamilton’s win in Monaco on Sunday moved him to four victories from the first six rounds of his championship defence.
Along with his two second-placed finishes, that record marks Hamilton’s greatest opening to a campaign in his 13-season career.
Carrying his fine form over from last year, the Mercedes star has now won 12 of the last 17 races.
Remarkably, Sebastian Vettel, his closest rival for the past two seasons, has triumphed only once during that period.
Hamilton is now 17 points clear of Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas, and an eye-watering 55 points ahead of Vettel in the championship standings.
But Hamilton, who traditionally gets stronger as the season goes on, insists he is yet to find top gear. “I definitely feel that it’s been quite an average performance from myself for the first six races,” he said.
“I’ve arrived prepared – the best prepared I could be – but in terms of extracting the true performance from the car, I feel I’ve struggled a little bit in these six races.
“I guess that’s kind of similar to other seasons, but without doubt I am going to improve with the knowledge you gain over the year. I hope, at some stage, that I’m able to crack the issues that I’ve had and get back to the form that I have within me.
“Whether that’s the next race or ten races from now, I can’t really say, but I am very, very focused on making sure I rectify those issues.”
Hamilton scrambled to the chequered flag in Monte Carlo after Mercedes made a mistake by putting him on the less-durable medium tyres with 68 laps of the race still to run.
The call was made by James Vowles, Mercedes’ chief strategist, and Hamilton got his own back by drenching him, and Mercedes’ chief race engineer Andrew Shovlin, in champagne midway through the team’s post-race debrief.
“That’s for putting me on those f****** tyres for 68 laps,” a laughing Hamilton said in a video posted to Instagram by Mercedes.
“You said the tyres wouldn’t make it to the end,” said Shovlin in response.
The world champion replied: “They f****** didn’t make it to the end. I made it to the end.”
Vettel may have ended Mercedes’ run of one-two finishes by taking second place in Monte Carlo. But the German, whose Ferrari team were expected to be title contenders following a strong programme of winter testing, has warned they are not nearing a position to challenge the Silver Arrows.
“It would be nice to flip a coin and turn things around, but it is not going to happen overnight,” he said. “It’s not been the easiest and straightforward ride so far, but I feel that there’s more potential in this car, and there’s more potential in the team.”
Both Hamilton and Vettel are expected at Niki Lauda’s funeral, which is due to take place in Vienna tomorrow.
The Mercedes’ non-executive chairman died last Monday nine months after a double lung transplant.