Copy of 2022-03-18T164649Z_1524807835_UP1EI3I1ALZDB_RTRMADP_3_MOTOR-F1-BAHRAIN-1647669926613
Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton during practice. Image Credit: REUTERS

Sakhir: A downcast, but realistic Lewis Hamilton dismissed his hopes of winning this weekend’s season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix after struggling in practice.

The seven-time world champion wound up 1.2 seconds adrift of world champion Max Verstappen who was fastest for Red Bull, imperiously confirming his new status after ending the Briton’s reign at last season’s furious finale in Abu Dhabi.

Ferrari endorsed pre-season suggestions that they have a vastly-improved car this year for the launch of a new ‘ground effect’ era with Charles Leclerc second ahead of Carlos Sainz.

“I’m just realistic and, at the moment, like I told you last week, we are not going to be in the race for a win,” said a downbeat Hamilton.

“If you look at the Red Bulls, they are a long, long way ahead, in the region of eight to nine tenths, and Ferrari are half a second to six tenths ahead.

“So we’re a long way off and we are not bluffing like people assumed we were.

“We have had small problems in the past, but we are faced with much, much bigger problems this year and everything we do to try and fix it doesn’t really change that.

“It appears as though this will be a long-term fix and not one for the short term, but our mindset is to be the best we can be - it’s not ideal, but we will pull together to try and fix it.”

Hamilton’s new Mercedes team-mate ex-Williams man and compatriot George Russell was fourth, but said his lap was a ‘one-off’ lap and not an indication of any hidden speed.

Like Hamilton, Russell battled with his car’s problem with ‘porpoising’ - a bouncing sensation that is caused by the unstable management of the aerodynamics of the new cars.

In effect, the cars seem to bounce on their suspension systems as the ‘sucking’ strength of the car changes at speeds of up to 300 kph.

To make matters worse for Hamilton, 37, entering his 15h season in F1, it was confirmed that he was fined 50,000 euros ($55,267) by the sport’s ruling body, the International Motoring Federation (FIA), for failing to attend last December’s gala prize-giving ceremony in Paris.