SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) – Mercedes will be underdogs for the rest of the Formula One season despite leading the drivers’ and constructors’ standings by a comfortable margin, according to five-times world champion Lewis Hamilton.
The Briton leads team mate Valtteri Bottas by 65 points ahead of Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix while Mercedes enjoy a 133- point advantage over closest rivals Ferrari.
Ferrari have won the last three races, however, and also racked up three pole positions in a row. Hamilton and Bottas failed to finish on the podium at the previous round in Singapore.
Mercedes have won every Russian Grand Prix since the first in 2014.
“I don’t think we are going to be favourites at any of the next six races but that doesn’t mean we can’t win,” Hamilton told reporters in Sochi on Thursday.
“We know how fast Ferrari have been on the straights, in the past three races, we have been stuck behind and not able to get by,” added the champion, who won in Russia last year.
“At the moment I would say these last three races, we’ve probably not extracted 100% on the weekend and that’s what we need to get back to. Extracting the maximum.
“I can squeeze more out of the car, more out of myself. I haven’t done a perfect lap yet this season. Remaining as the leaders is not an easy task so it is understandable that we will have dips.”
Hamilton has won eight of the 15 races but none since the August break, the point at which in the past he has moved up a gear and reeled off a string of wins.
His overall lead is barely threatened by Ferrari or Red Bull, with Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen level on points in third place but 96 adrift of the Briton.
Verstappen has won twice for Red Bull this season while Leclerc has done the same for Ferrari, who won in Singapore with Sebastian Vettel leading the team first one-two finish since 2008.
Mercedes have done the title double for the past five seasons and are favourites for an unprecedented six in a row, even if winning races has become harder.
The real concern for the champions is that Ferrari’s form carries over into 2020 and the Italians become the team to beat over the course of a year.
Mercedes have not been beaten for four races in a row since the V6 turbo hybrid era started in 2014.
(Writing by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Ed Osmond)