Lewis Hamilton remains staunch in his stance against the FIA's jewellery ban, with the seven-time world champion insisting "you should be able to be who you are".

New race director Niels Wittich, who replaced Michael Masi at the start of the season, informed Formula One drivers that the ruling on accessories would be reinforced before the Australian Grand Prix.

Wittich suggested "body piercing or metal neck chains" were forbidden, with checks to be undertaken before races, but Hamilton still competed on Sunday with piercings in both ears and a nose stud.

The 37-year-old could, in theory, be penalised both financially and in terms of points for breaking the sporting code, with F1's race director insisting the rules were to prevent injury for the driver.

However, Hamilton – who finished fourth in Melbourne, one place behind Mercedes team-mate George Russell – does not intend on removing his jewellery.

"I don't have any plans on removing them," he said. "I feel they are personal things. You should be able to be who you are. There's stuff that I can't move.

"I literally can't take these out [gesturing to piercings on his right ear]. They're literally welded on so I'd have to get them chopped off or something. So they'll be staying.

"It's been the rule forever. Since I've been here it's been the rule, so there's nothing new. I'm just going to come with more jewellery next week."

The jewellery ban has been in place since 2004, but Wittich made a special effort to stress the rule was back into strong consideration in his pre-race notes in Melbourne.

While Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff praised the work of the new race director thus far, he questioned whether Wittich needed to pick a problem with what he sees as a minute issue.

"How he has run the first few races has been respectful, solid and he hasn't put a single foot wrong," Wolff said, as reported by PA Media.

"But is that [jewellery ban] a battle he needs to have at this stage? However, if it turns out to be the biggest unfortunate misstep of a race director, I would take it a thousand times over."

Lewis Hamilton said Mercedes must "leave no stone unturned" in their quest for improvements after he battled to a fourth-place finish at the Australian Grand Prix.

The seven-time world champion has endured a frustrating start to the 2022 campaign, sitting fifth in the drivers' championship standings and repeatedly speaking out on problems with the team's W13 car.

Hamilton batlled to fourth in the third Grand Prix of the season after starting fifth on the grid, with team-mate George Russell claiming his first podium finish for Mercedes in third as Ferrari's Charles Leclerc stormed to victory.

After describing Mercedes' car as "spiteful" in the aftermath of qualifying in Melbourne, Hamilton stressed the need for the team to make improvements in "every single area" if they are to compete with early-season pace-setters Ferrari.

"I will be on Zoom calls with our bosses, really trying to rally them up," he said.

"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.

"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."

Mercedes are bidding for a ninth consecutive constructors' championship, but trail Ferrari by 39 points in the 2022 standings after three races.

While calling for improvements across the board and noting that the gap to Ferrari is "pretty big", Hamilton stressed the need for the team to remain upbeat and highlighted that there are many races to come.

"I prefer to stay optimistic," he added. "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."

Russell, meanwhile, is second in the drivers' standings after following up his fourth and fifth-place finishes in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia with an impressive showing at Albert Park, and Hamilton was keen to praise the 24-year-old for his performances since making the switch from Williams.

"It is incredible," Hamilton said of the start Russell has made to his Mercedes career.

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

The next date in the Formula One calendar will see Hamilton bid for a repeat of his 2020 triumph at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, after he finished second to Max Verstappen at Imola last year.

Max Verstappen says Red Bull are "already miles behind" after the reigning world champion suffered a second DNF of the 2022 Formula One season at the Australian Grand Prix.

The Dutchman had sat second throughout the race at Albert Park and had closed the gap on eventual race winner and championship rival Charles Leclerc amid a safety car deployment.

But a mechanical failure saw him forced to retire once again after he also failed to see out the season opener in Bahrain, with the Ferrari of Leclerc leading home from Verstappen's Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez and Mercedes' George Russell.

It is the second time in three races Verstappen has been blighted by problems beyond his control, and he bemoaned that he cannot think about defending his crown right now.

"We're already miles behind," he stated. "I don't want to think about the title fight, I just want to finish races.

"It's frustrating and unacceptable. These kinds of things if you want to fight for the title cannot happen."

Team principal Christian Horner voiced his own disappointment to Sky Sports afterwards too, adding: "We don't know what the issue is yet. I don't think it is engine related.

"I think it might be a fuel issue but we need to get the car back and look at exactly what has happened.

"[It's] desperately frustrating. We didn't have the pace to race Charles today. They were in a league of their own but frustrating not to bag those points."

One beneficiary of Verstappen's exit was Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton, with the seven-time world champion completing a second-row lockout for the Silver Arrows after his struggles this year.

"We definitely didn't expect to be third and fourth," the Briton added to Sky Sports. "George did a great job today. We'll take these points and keep pushing.

"I couldn't fight for third as the engine kept overheating. I had to back off. We bagged as many points as we could for the team and that's great."

Charles Leclerc extended his championship lead by winning the Australian Grand Prix and Max Verstappen retired for the second time in three races on Sunday.

Ferrari driver Leclerc led from start to finish at Albert Park to secure his second victory of the season, with Sergio Perez finishing second and George Russell third.

World champion Verstappen pulled over on lap 39 of 58, while Leclerc's team-mate Carlos Sainz - who started the day second in the driver standings - spun off early in the race after starting back in ninth spot.

Leclerc got off to a good start and Lewis Hamilton moved up from fifth to third behind world champion Verstappen.

The safety car was deployed when Sainz found himself in the gravel after losing control on lap three, with Leclerc extending his advantage as Perez used the DRS to overtake Hamilton.

Verstappen pitted for hard tyres on lap 19 and the safety car was out again when Sebastian Vettel retired, giving Russell the opportunity to pit and remain in third place.

Leclerc fended off Verstappen when the race restarted and that was as close as the Dutchman came to taking the lead before he pulled over due to another issue with his Red Bull.

Monegasque Leclerc was untroubled, easing to a second win in three races and put the icing on the cake by clocking the fastest lap.

Leclerc finished over 20 seconds ahead of Perez, with Russell securing a podium spot and Hamilton crossing the line in fourth spot.

Lewis Hamilton described the temperament of his Mercedes as that of "a viper, or a rattlesnake" after qualifying fifth for the Australian Grand Prix.

The seven-time Formula One champion recognised a significant shift in performance as he finished just ahead of team-mate George Russell, with both Mercedes cars starting on the third row for Sunday's race.

That is a welcome boost to the team, after Hamilton was eliminated in Q1 last time out in Saudi Arabia.

This time, both cars safely made it through to the third round of qualifying, and Hamilton said it was "nice to be back up there" as he and Mercedes looks to challenge early-season pace-setters Ferrari.

"Jeddah was really, really, really tough, to be so far back and not really be able to make progress," Hamilton said.

Speaking to Sky Sports, Hamilton said the Mercedes team had worked through the night in an effort to draw the best possible lap from the car.

And he claimed there could be better still to come, but the danger lies in pushing too hard.

"I feel like with my lap today there was a little bit more in the car," Hamilton said. "I'm naturally also gutted I wasn't able to extract that little bit.

"But the problem is when you push that car a little bit more, she's quite spiteful. She's like a viper, or like a rattlesnake, you never know."

Hamilton has complained about the W13 car bouncing during the early weeks of the season, and that remains an issue.

He was almost a full second behind Ferrari pole-sitter Charles Leclerc in Q3 on Saturday at Melbourne's Albert Park circuit, meaning there remains a significant gap in performance.

"We just have to try to find a level of the bouncing as hardcore as we can go, without rattling our brains out of our skulls, and that's what we try to do," Hamilton said.

"[Russell] and I have slightly different cars because we're trying all different things. I've got something in my car that makes the car a little bit heavier.

"Hopefully it will enable the team to gain more information from the race tomorrow. I hope from that we can start making some progress."

Hamilton has previously taken eight pole positions at Albert Park, matching the all-time record for any F1 circuit. Eight poles has also been previously achieved by Michael Schumacher at Suzuka, Ayrton Senna at Imola and Hamilton himself at Hungaroring.

Qualifying success has not typically translated to success on race day for Hamilton in Australia, however, as he has only recorded two wins at Albert Park, in the 2008 and 2015 seasons.

Max Verstappen admits he is still finding it a "struggle" to drive his Red Bull after being pipped to pole for Sunday's Australian Grand Prix by Charles Leclerc.

Championship leader Leclerc outpaced Verstappen with his final lap of a dramatic qualifying session in Melbourne on Saturday to ensure he will start at the top of the grid.

The Ferrari driver, who has finished first and second in the opening two races of 2022, posted 1:17.868 late on in Q3 to finish 0.286s ahead of Verstappen.

"It feels great and very happy to be starting on pole," Leclerc said. "Again, we were quite surprised by our pace in qualifying, so we will see what happens.

"Overall, I'm very happy because it's a track where I've always struggled in the past and I've struggled this weekend.

"You probably couldn't see from outside because we were quite fast, but I was struggling quite a lot with mistakes, being inconsistent.

"I really worked on that to try to put a good lap together in Q3. I knew it was just all about putting it together and I managed to do it in Q3, so I'm very happy."

Verstappen was edged out by Leclerc in a thrilling Saudi Arabian Grand Prix two weeks ago and is third in the drivers' standings, with Carlos Sainz occupying second place.

Leclerc's Ferrari team-mate Sainz will start Sunday's race down in ninth, however, after being caught by red flags that were brought out following a crash for Fernando Alonso.

Red Bull's Verstappen will therefore have a chance to climb the standings this weekend, but the Dutchman is not entirely pleased with how the weekend has gone thus far.

"I would have hoped to start first, but we have to accept where we finish, but the whole weekend has been a bit tricky for me," he said.

"I've never really found a stable grip whether it's front or rear and that's just not nice. For me, that's really been the case all year.

"I've never found a comfortable balance where I could attack corners, especially in qualifying and that's a big limitation – it's something very new for me in the last three years.

"Of course, I'm talking like I'm P18, but I think we have a lot of potential in the car we're not showing and I think that's a bit of a shame.

"But I expect it to be tight [on Sunday]. Maybe Ferrari will find something, but I hope not and hopefully we can have a good battle again."

 

Despite his complaints, it is Verstappen's first front row start at Albert Park as he seeks just a second podium finish in six appearances Down Under.

Verstappen's team-mate Sergio Perez finished third in qualifying, though that will be reviewed as he is under investigation.

That is due to the Mexican failing to slow for double waved flags after Lance Stroll inadvertently turned into Nicholas Latifi, with both drivers blaming each other for the crash.

Perez, who could only finish four in Jeddah last time out after claiming pole – the first Mexican to ever do so – was more upbeat than Verstappen.

"It felt good. Q1, Q2 things were going good. With all the red flags, it's always very hard to keep the momentum going," he said.

"I regret a bit the decision to go into Q3 with our strategy on the tyres, but I think P3 is a decent start for tomorrow."

Elsewhere in Saturday's qualifying session, Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton, who has taken a record eight poles in Australia, finished fifth, narrowly behind McLaren's Lando Norris.

Lewis Hamilton conceded that any optimism for the Australian Grand Prix had been quashed after Ferrari again dominated Mercedes in practice in Melbourne.

Seven-time world champion Hamilton was fortunate to edge onto the podium in Bahrain's season opener, with Mercedes' problems with their new W13 design well-documented.

More problems followed for the 37-year-old and his team in Saudi Arabia, where Hamilton fell to his first performance-related Q1 elimination since 2009 and Mercedes failed to make the top five on the grid for the first time since the 2013 Italian Grand Prix.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff warned not to expect any "magic fix" for their new W13 car 'porpoising' – bouncing at high speed – and not racing at the optimum height, and the practice sessions at Albert Park have left much to ponder.

Hamilton and team-mate George Russell finished well behind a Ferrari one-two of Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc in the first practice, and things did not improve in the second session when Russell was 11th quickest and Hamilton a lowly 13th.

Both Mercedes drivers were again well behind Leclerc, and Hamilton, who finished more than one and a half seconds off the pace, accepted Sunday will be a struggle.

"I feel good, I feel okay. It was just a difficult session," he told Sky Sports. "You go in very optimistic, you make changes, and it doesn't seem to be wanting to improve.

"We made some changes going into FP2; FP1 was better, and FP2 ended up being a bit harder, so it's tricky. I don't think it'll be tricky to find our way back, there's just not a lot we can do. This is the way it is, so we just have to drive with it.

"We're trying to push, trying to catch, and even when you do a decent lap, it's 1.2s down."

Russell, who is fourth in the drivers' championship despite not making the podium in his opening two races, echoed Hamilton's frustrations.

"We're not in the position that we want," Russell said. "There's quite a few midfield cars ahead of us, and we're quite a long way off the pace. We need to work hard tonight and understand the limitations [of the car].

Asked if he was still enjoying driving, Russell added: "Driving is always cool, [but] you enjoy it more when you're on top of the timesheet!

"When you think you've done a good lap and then you look at the timesheet and see that you're down in P11, it's not where we want to be as a team. It's all about results."

McLaren driver Lando Norris believes the struggles of Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton are reassuring for Formula One.

Hamilton squeezed onto the podium in Bahrain in the season opener despite ongoing questions following a series of design changes by his team to comply with new regulations for the 2022 season.

However, he then succumbed to his first performance-related Q1 elimination since 2009 in Saudi Arabia as Mercedes failed to make the top five on the grid for the first time since the 2013 Italian Grand Prix.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff has since acknowledged that instant solutions would not be found for their new W13 car 'porpoising' – bouncing at high speed – and not racing at the optimum height.

And Norris believes it is refreshing for the rest of the grid to see the usually dominant Mercedes well behind Ferrari, who hold a 40-point lead over Red Bull in the constructors' championship after two races.

"In a way it is nice to see that Mercedes don't always have success," Norris told The Daily Mail. "It shows that even when you have had that success, you can still get things wrong. It is easy to get things wrong.

"Much as I hate to say it, it is good to see Ferrari up there. And it is reassuring for other teams to know it is still possible. If it were just Mercedes and Red Bull again, it would be so predictable.

"With Lewis you are seeing the challenge of one of the best drivers competing in a car that is not the best. We will see a different side of Lewis, compared to the last decade.

"But I don't think you can say it is all about the car, rather than Lewis' ability. He has still been against very good drivers, such as Fernando [Alonso] in his first year, and then went on to achieve what everyone expected of him.

"I just don't believe in the last few years he has had quite the challenge that he could have had, or maybe that he had against [Nico] Rosberg. Perhaps we will see that against George [Russell, Hamilton's new team-mate].

"I don't think anything takes away the driver he is."

Norris has endured a similarly tough start to his season with McLaren, finishing almost a minute behind winner Max Verstappen in Jeddah, but he feels he made the right choice to join his new team.

"I see a lot of stories saying I have made the wrong decision," he added. "But that is not the case. I am happy. I have all the faith in the world that we can still achieve good things in the next few years and if I had to make the decision again, I would still do what I did.

"There were chances to go to other teams, but I am playing the long game."

The 22-year-old, who is 10th in the drivers' championship, will hope he can kick-start McLaren's 2022 campaign at the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on Sunday.

George Russell believes Mercedes have the potential pace to challenge Ferrari and Red Bull for race wins this season, but not at this weekend's Australian Grand Prix.

Russell finished a lowly 11th in Friday's second practice session in Melbourne, adding further anguish to what has been a challenging opening to the 2022 Formula One season.

He and Mercedes team-mate, seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, only claimed respective fourth and third place finishes at the season opener in Bahrain after Red Bull had to retire both cars.

Finishes of fifth and 10th for Russell and Hamilton respectively in Saudi Arabia provided a clearer reflection of where the once-dominant Mercedes team is in the 2022 pecking order, amid new regulations.

"We do believe there is a solution and we do believe there's a lot of lap time on the table once we optimise that," Russell said.

"It's more optimism and excitement. We're not here scratching our heads, not understanding why we're off the pace. We absolutely know why we're off the pace and we know what we need to work on to improve that.

"We're a long way behind Ferrari and Red Bull. It's going to take time and we just have to be disciplined and patient because we are so far behind and because of the cost cap, we can't afford just to throw things at it and trial and error at race weekends."

The extra week between the Saudi Arabian and Australian Grands Prix has not rectified the extreme porpoising issues Mercedes cars have experienced at high speeds so far, relative to other teams.

A higher downforce setup would significantly impact the car's speed and performance, meaning a balance must be struck, something rival teams have been quicker in achieving.

Russell, who signed for Mercedes upon the expectation he would be challenging for race wins and ultimately the driver's title, believes the team must be patient.

"We need to trust the process and bring the upgrades when we have total faith and confidence they will do as we expect," he said. "And that will be a number of races before we start seeing that."

Lewis Hamilton may be in search of a third Australian Grand Prix on Sunday, but Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff warned not to expect a "magic fix" amid a slow start to the season.

Mercedes have fallen well short of early leaders Ferrari, who hold a 40-point advantage over Red Bull in the constructors' championship after the opening two races in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

Hamilton managed to finish third in Bahrain in the season opener despite ongoing questions following a series of design changes by his team to comply with new regulations for the 2022 season.

However, Hamilton succumbed to his first performance-related Q1 elimination since 2009 in Jeddah as Mercedes failed to make the top five on the grid for the first time since the 2013 Italian Grand Prix.

Wolff was honest in his assessment ahead of the next race in Melbourne, with Mercedes aiming to rectify their issues with the W13 'porpoising' – bouncing at high speed – and not racing at the optimum height.

"We are in a learning race and the first two weekends have shown we still have plenty to learn," he said on Thursday.

"At the moment, our track performance is not meeting our own expectations, but everyone at Brackley and Brixworth is focused on understanding the problems and finding the right solutions.

"There won’t be a magic fix for the next race weekend. But we're pushing to steadily bring gains over the upcoming races, to hopefully move us closer to the front of the pack.

"Until then, we need to maximise each opportunity and make the most of the package we have."

Both Hamilton and George Russell played their part in the W13 development, and Wolff appears unworried by the upcoming challenges with his driving pair to call upon.

"Lewis and George are making an important contribution to the overall effort," he continued. 

"Providing feedback, spending time in the simulator and working together to help push us forward.

"So, there are various challenges ahead of us but that's something we relish, and is when a team really shows its true spirit."

Two races into the 2022 Formula One season, a new era of regulations and while it is evident to see that Ferrari and Red Bull have started the strongest, Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen seem to be relishing the duel.

It is currently one race apiece for Leclerc and Verstappen, but both the former's win in Bahrain and the latter's in Saudi Arabia have been characterised by hard but fair wheel-to-wheel racing.

Coming into this weekend's Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, Ferrari's strength this season can be seen in the fact they have opened up a healthy 40-point buffer in the constructors' championship after only two races.

Leclerc and Sainz are also first and second in the drivers' championship, with the Monegasque's respective first and second place finishes coupled with bonus points for the fastest lap in the opening two races.

Following a tightly contested race in Saudi Arabia, Leclerc and Verstappen were revelling in the opening battles for the championship.

"It wasn't enough today, but my God, I really enjoyed that race," Leclerc said. "Every race should be like this."

Especially in comparison to how sour the relationship became between him and Lewis Hamilton as they fought for the title in 2021, Verstappen is also enjoying the hard but fair racing.

"It was really tough, but a good race," the world champion said after his Saudi win. "We were both battling hard at the front. We just tried to play the long game."

 

Mercedes' lack of pace working against Hamilton  

Meanwhile, Mercedes have endured a difficult start to the 2022 season, claiming third and fourth thanks to Red Bull DNFs in Bahrain before a fifth and 10th place finish in Saudi Arabia, well off the pace at the front.

Their troubles with speed and managing downforce in relation to their heavy porpoising is difficult for any team, let alone one with expectations of drivers' and constructors' championships.

With that all in mind, Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton has taken eight pole positions at Albert Park, tied with two other drivers for the most ever in F1 at a single track – Michael Schumacher at Suzuka and Ayrton Senna at Imola are the other two, while Hamilton also holds eight at the Hungaroring.

 

No home race advantage for Aussies

McLaren's poor start to the season could only serve to compound matters for Daniel Ricciardo at his home race.

No Australian driver has ever won, taken pole position or reached the podium in 35 editions of the Australian GP.

Ricciardo (2016, 2018) and Mark Webber (2010) only managed to secure fastest laps and mere points finishes.

 

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

Drivers

1. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 45
2. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) 33
3. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 25
4. George Russell (Mercedes) 22
5. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 16

Constructors

1. Ferrari 78
2. Mercedes 38
3. Red Bull 37
4. Alpine 16
5. Haas 12

Lewis Hamilton has "struggled mentally" to deal with global events this year, the Mercedes driver and seven-time world champion has disclosed.

In an Instagram stories message, the British star said anyone feeling the same should realise "you are not alone" and there should be a brighter future.

Hamilton, 37, wrote: "It's been such a tough year already with everything that is happening around us.

"Hard some days to stay positive. I have struggled mentally and emotionally for a long time, to keep going is a constant effort but we have to keep fighting, we have so much to do and to achieve.

"I'm writing to tell you it's ok to feel the way you do, just know that you are not alone and that we are gonna get through this!

"A friend reminded me today, you are so powerful and you can do anything you put your mind to! We can do anything we put our mind to.

"Let's remember to live in gratitude for another day to rise. Sending you love and light."

Hamilton did not explicitly mention the circumstances that have left him low-spirited, but world events have impacted upon his sport already in 2022.

Formula One's Russian Grand Prix has been cancelled this season due to the military invasion of Ukraine, and conflict struck close to the heart of motorsport only last week.

A Houthi missile strike that hit an Aramco facility 10 miles from the Jeddah circuit during a practice session last Friday sparked concern over the safety of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

The Saudi energy and chemical company is also a sponsor of F1, as well as a principal sponsor of the Aston Martin team.

Amid criticism of the Saudi regime's human rights record and fears for their safety, there was serious concern over a driver boycott of Sunday's race. 

Hamilton, who qualified 16th, finished down in 10th, but the seven-time world champion said afterwards he was just pleased to finish the race and leave the country.

"I am so happy the weekend is done," Hamilton said on Sunday. "I am so happy everyone is safe, I am just looking forward to getting out. I just want to go home."

Las Vegas will return to the Formula One calendar in 2023 after an absence of more than four decades.

Vegas will be the third city in the United States to host F1 races, joining Miami and Austin on the schedule.

Races were previously held in the city in 1981 and 1982, though unlike back then, the new race will take place along the world-famous Las Vegas Strip.

An F1 statement read: "The 14-turn track will run for 3.8 miles (6.12km) with top speeds expected to hit around 212mph (342km/h).

"The design features three straights, a high-speed cornering sequence and a single chicane section, with the Grand Prix to be run over 50 laps."

At an announcement event in Vegas on Wednesday, F1 President and CEO Stefano Domenicali said: "This is an incredible moment for F1 that demonstrates the huge appeal and growth of our sport with a third race in the US. Las Vegas is a destination known around the world for its excitement, hospitality, thrills, and of course, the famous Strip.

"There is no better place for Formula 1 to race than in the global entertainment capital of the world and we cannot wait to be here next year. I want to thank everyone who helped deliver this event, especially Governor Sisolak, the Clark County Commission, Steve Hill at the LVCVA, and our local partners."

Various drivers reacted to the news on the F1 website, with Red Bull's Max Verstappen saying: "It's going to be fun."

Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton simply added: "That’s going to be a pretty hardcore event."

Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen have reaffirmed their concern over Formula One racing in Saudi Arabia.

A Houthi missile strike that hit an Aramco facility 10 miles from the Jeddah circuit during the first practice on Friday sparked concern over the safety of the race.

The Saudi energy and chemical company is also a sponsor of F1, as well as a principal sponsor of the Aston Martin team.

Amid criticism of the Saudi regime's human rights record and fears for their safety, there was serious concern over a driver boycott of Sunday's race. 

However, the event went ahead as planned, with reigning F1 champion Max Verstappen beating Charles Leclerc.

Hamilton, who qualified 16th, finished down in 10th, but the seven-time world champion was simply happy that the paddock could finish the race and leave the country.

"I am so happy the weekend is done," Hamilton said.

"I am so happy everyone is safe, I am just looking forward to getting out. I just want to go home."

Red Bull's Verstappen confirmed the drivers will be looking to take their concerns over the future of the race further.

"We had a lot of guarantees that of course it would be safe but after this weekend all the drivers together, we will speak with F1 and the team bosses to see what is happening for the future," he said.

"Of course, I am relieved [to have got through the weekend," added McLaren's Lando Norris.

"It is a nervous place to be and you are going to have these nerves."

Lewis Hamilton says Mercedes have "a lot of work" to do to match Red Bull and Ferrari after a disappointing Saudi Arabian Grand Prix performance.

The seven-time world champion was knocked out following a shaky Q1 session on Saturday, and he began from 15th on the grid and ultimately came home 10th in Jeddah, saying it was a "gutting" outcome.

Hamilton could have finished higher were it not for pit-stop confusion amid virtual safety car conditions a dozen laps from the end, while George Russell drove a sedate race to finish fifth.

Both were well off the pace of Red Bull and Ferrari, who locked out the front two rows in qualifying and then the podium as Max Verstappen got off the mark for the season with the win.

Speaking afterwards, Hamilton felt little had been done to improve the Mercedes car since Bahrain owing to the short turnaround, and said the pace of his vehicle remains a serious concern.

"Not much has changed really since the last race. It's only been a few days," the Briton said.

"What I know is that today, I couldn't keep up with the Haas at the end. The power they have, they came sling-shotting past me when I overtook [Haas driver Kevin] Magnussen earlier on in the race."

However, Hamilton, who drove to a P3 in the season-opener last weekend after both Red Bull cars suffered mechanical failures late on, believes he has the crew to help turn things around.

"We've got a lot of work to do for sure, but I know we've got a great team, and we'll just keep our heads down and try to improve," he said on Sky Sports.

Hamilton added: "It's gutting but we need to keep fighting, it's all we can do."

Team principal Toto Wolff admitted Mercedes' performance was a grim reminder of how far off the pace they are so far, saying: "Today’s race was the reflection of where we currently stand.

"The overall picture is sobering, and it's clear that we need to continue working hard if we wish to deliver a stronger performance in Melbourne."

Hamilton faces a two-week wait in which to help fine-tune his car before the F1 season resumes with the first Australian Grand Prix since 2019.

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