Lewis Hamilton arrives for another frustrating session behind the wheel of the underperforming Mercedes

Jeddah (Saudi Arabia) (AFP) - Toto Wolff admitted Friday he would not blame Lewis Hamilton for leaving Mercedes if the team failed to give him a realistic chance of competing for a record eighth world title.

Speaking to reporters before second free practice at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, the Mercedes team boss made clear he did not want the seven-time champion to leave and did not think he would.

“I don’t think Lewis will leave Mercedes,” said Wolff.

“He’s at the stage of a career where we trust each other, we have formed a great bond and we have no reason to doubt each other – even though this is a difficult spell.

“It will be so nice when we come out of this valley of tears and come back to solid performances. Nevertheless, as a driver, if he wants to win another championship, he needs to make sure he has the car.

“And if we cannot demonstrate that we are able to give him a car in the next couple of years then he needs to look elsewhere.

“I don’t think he is doing it at this stage, but I will have no grouch if that happens in a year or two.”

Hamilton said on Thursday that he did not plan to leave Mercedes, but he is enduring the longest winless run of his record-breaking Formula One career and failed to win a single race last season for the first time.

- Major changes -

He and team-mate George Russell struggled at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix where they could not compete with the victorious Red Bull, Ferrari or Aston Martin teams.

That setback led to a crisis meeting from which the team determined to make major changes.

“We are talking about when we want to do it and how, but we just need to change some terms – the dates, basically,” said Wolff.

Hamilton said this year’s disappointment had not upset his motivation.

“It’s just different,” he said.

“You just redirect your energy. If you’re fighting for a world championship, which is what you prepare for at the beginning of the season, and you realise that’s not the case, then you redirect the energy into building and strengthening the team, supporting everyone in the best way you can.

“You continue to prepare the same for the races, in the sense of your fitness and the mental approach.

“But we need the Red Bulls not to finish the race, the Ferraris not to finish the race and maybe now the Astons not to finish the race, for us to be winning at the moment.

Toto Wolff at opening practice in Jeddah on Friday

“But that doesn’t mean we can’t catch them up. None of us at this team have ever kind of shied away from a challenge. We enjoy the challenge. We would much prefer to be at the front, but it isn’t the way it is.”

Wolff said the team had tried to make their concept work.

“The data that we have extrapolated showed us that this works. We were proven wrong. Very simply.

“You can see that the three quickest cars, including the Ferraris, have a similar concept of how they generate performance. That’s very different to ours. And at a certain stage, we came to the conclusion that we had got it wrong.”

Russell and Hamilton were fifth and 11th in Friday’s second practice, led by defending double world champion Max Verstappen.