There is more chance of Lewis Hamilton winning an eighth world championship with Blackpool Tower Circus than with Mercedes.
Not only my view, but a reflection of the mood of the man himself after a Brazilian Grand Prix as abject as any day during the tarnished Silver Arrows’ two years of serial non-achievement.
Hamilton spelt out what any idiot can see, namely that there is no prospect of his team ending their misery this year or next, or perhaps the one after. What that means for his title dream is obvious. He is 38 and has two seasons to run on his new contract.
‘Red Bull are so far away, they’re probably going to be very clear for the next couple of years,’ said Hamilton after Red Bull’s unstoppable Max Verstappen clinically led home McLaren’s Lando Norris and Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso.
This is it for Mercedes for the foreseeable future, and one wonders whether Toto Wolff is a team principal capable of turning the tide. He lives in Monaco when the factory is in Brackley, Northamptonshire — an emblem of his detachment.
Formula One history suggests the boss must be first in and last out, day in and day out.
Wolff, 51, is hardly heading back to the Riviera content this time. Like a stuck record he promised fundamental changes to the car concept over the winter. ‘An inexcusable performance,’ he admitted. ‘The car almost drove like it was on three wheels and not on four. My worst weekend in 13 years.’
The damning evidence started mounting in Saturday’s sprint over just 24 laps that saw George Russell finish 26 seconds back and Lewis Hamilton 35. This is light years in a sport of thousandths. And the grand prix itself over 71 laps was even worse for being a longer-endured agony.
Hamilton finished eighth, 1min 3sec back. Russell retired with rising oil temperature while running 11th — engine failure, in plain English.
Even the Alpine of Pierre Gasly beat them. And Hamilton would likely have been a place further adrift if only Charles Leclerc had not slid off with hydraulic failure on the formation lap. (Ferrari are also a basket case, and Leclerc bemoaned his ‘f***ing bad luck’ and said he should visit Lourdes.)
But the Mercedes malaise under Wolff is deep in technical and leadership terms. This weekend’s setback comes after a much-vaunted new floor was introduced in Austin a fortnight ago.
That carried Hamilton to a seemingly impressive close second place before the underneath of his machine was revealed to be illegal.
It has never worked so well since conforming to the rules. (He was 14sec shy last week despite finishing runner-up). And on Sunday night Hamilton suggested the floor is the problem. It clearly is. This generation of cars are all about mastering the vortices below. Mercedes haven’t cracked it, and appear no nearer to doing so.
The two Mercedes drivers were like rats in sacks as the race unfolded. Russell felt he was being held up by Hamilton. ‘Are we working together or just doing our own race?’ he asked.
Then: ‘Do you want me to race or concede position?’ And after being passed by Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, he added sarcastically: ‘I haven’t been on the radio because I thought it was quite obvious about the pace. Just sat there, behind the tyres.’
That was code for being trapped behind Hamilton, who was overtaken by Red Bull’s Sergio Perez, Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll and Gasly on an afternoon as embarrassing as any in his long career.
A sense of disarray was all around. ‘We should have gone to the hard tyres, man,’ complained Hamilton. And when tracking AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda, who had yet to stop again, he said: ‘I’m in his DRS and I’m still not catching him.’
This on the Interlagos track where he was feted all weekend. Hamilton is an honorary citizen of Brazil and waved the national flag while driven around the track in the pre-race rituals. He was cheered to the rafters every time his face appeared on the big screens.
But the post-race mood at Mercedes was sepulchral. A sombre debrief was underway. Can anyone, possibly, find a route map?