Lewis Hamilton demands improvements from Mercedes in bid to save his season

Lewis Hamilton has demanded Mercedes act now to salvage his dwindling title dreams.

The seven-time world champion departs Australia 43 points behind Charles Leclerc following the Ferrari driver’s one-sided victory at Melbourne’s Albert Park on Sunday.

Hamilton started fifth and finished fourth – one place behind George Russell who claimed his first podium in Mercedes colours.

Hamilton heads to Kuala Lumpur for a sponsor event on Monday, before the next round in Imola on April 24.

“I will be on Zoom calls with our bosses, and really trying to rally them up,” said Hamilton.

“We have got some improvements that we need to make and we need everyone’s support in doing so.

“It is about making sure we leave no stone unturned, that the hunger is there and we are maximising every moment.

“I will be chasing the people in the wind tunnel, the aerodynamic guys, and just looking at every single area.

Lewis Hamilton in the pit

Lewis Hamilton has had a tough start to the season (Simon Baker/AP)

“There is performance to be gained and we need it now, not in two or three races. I have got to keep that encouragement and energy high.

“I prefer to stay optimistic. There are 20 races to go. I am really hoping we can get in the fight, but with every bit of improvement we make so will Red Bull and Ferrari. It is not going to be easy. The gap is pretty big right now but there is a long way to go.”

Hamilton would have taken the final podium spot on F1’s first race here in three years, but for Sebastian Vettel’s lap-22 crash.

Russell took advantage of the ensuing safety car period to stop for new rubber, and emerge from the pits ahead of his team-mate.

“You guys put me in a really difficult position,” said Hamilton to his team in the closing stages of Sunday’s race.

Later explaining his frustrated radio message, Hamilton said: “I couldn’t race for position because the car was overheating so I had to back off.”

So, it wasn’t related to Russell being ahead?

“Because the car was overheating,” the 37-year-old insisted.

Russell, 24, is now second in the championship, has outscored Hamilton at two of the first three races, and is nine points and three spots ahead of his compatriot in the standings.

“It is incredible,” said Hamilton, reflecting on the formative races of Russell’s Mercedes’ career.

“He has been so solid. He is really grafting away and is doing an amazing job.”

Thirteen years Hamilton’s junior, Russell is primed to be Britain’s next motor racing star.

“Obviously everybody wants to finish ahead of their team-mate but Lewis and I have no interest in battling it out for fifth and sixth,” he said diplomatically.

“We want to work together to claw that gap back. There are no hard feelings if he is ahead of me or if I am ahead of him.

Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc celebrates with team-mates

Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc won in Melbourne (Asanka Brendon Ratnayake/AP)

“It is a strange feeling for me because we have such high expectations. Previously, the only satisfaction I could get was beating my team-mate but here we have a bigger picture, and the long game we need to play is to catch these guys up because we are here to win.”

At a balmy Albert Park – with a record 420,000 spectators visiting the Melbourne venue for the Grand Prix weekend – Hamilton made two positions to third at the start.

Hamilton drew alongside Lando Norris within metres and then moved ahead of Sergio Perez after out-braking the Mexican heading into the first corner. Russell, who started sixth, also beat Norris to the opening bend.

In his superior Red Bull, Perez fought his way back past Hamilton twice – on lap 10 and then after the Briton’s sole pit stop. Perez also eased past Russell before all three men were promoted a place when Max Verstappen’s Red Bull expired for the second time in three races.

The world champion is already 46 points behind Leclerc – the equivalent of nearly two wins.

“We are miles behind, and I don’t even want to think about the championship fight at the moment,” he said.

“It is more important to finish races. Not to finish is pretty frustrating and unacceptable. If you want to fight for the title, these things cannot happen.”

Leclerc delivered a composed and impressive performance, leading every lap and setting the fastest lap, to win for a second time this season.

But there was misery on the other side of the Ferrari garage after Carlos Sainz started ninth, dropped to 14th and then spun out on the first lap. Norris took fifth in his improved McLaren ahead of team-mate and home favourite Daniel Ricciardo.