Lewis Hamilton may have to miss next weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix with back pain, leading the British driver to “pray” for the end of Sunday’s race in Azerbaijan.
Hamilton’s Mercedes boss Toto Wolff made the alarming confession about his superstar driver moments after Sunday’s round on the streets of Baku, which was won by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
“Yeah, sure,” said Wolff, when asked if there’s any danger. Hamilton, 37, will not be able to compete in Montreal.
“He’s really bad. You can see this isn’t muscular anymore. It’s going well in the spine and it could have some consequences.”
“The solution could be to have someone on reserve, who we have at every race anyway.”
Stoffel Vandoorne, the Belgian who spent two seasons at McLaren, and Formula E champion Nyck de Vries are Mercedes’ two options if Hamilton is not fit.
Hamilton started seventh and finished fourth but yelled over the radio with 22 of 51 laps to go: “Aaargh, my back hurts, man!”
The seven-time world champion finished 71 seconds behind Verstappen and struggled to get out of his cockpit at the end of the race.
He later admitted that he was concerned about reaching the checkered flag.
“There were a lot of times where I didn’t know if I was going to make it and if I could keep the car on track,” said Hamilton.
“That was the most painful and toughest race I’ve been through.
“I just held my teeth and bit my teeth from the pain. The adrenaline helped, but I can’t express the pain you feel, especially on the straight here. I just prayed it would stop.”
On the eve of Sunday’s race, Hamilton’s teammate George Russell, who finished third, called the new generation of F1 cars “dangerous” and a “recipe for disaster”.
The problem for Mercedes and some other teams – though not all – is the porpoise phenomenon that is new for 2022, where the car bounces off its suspension at high speed.
Hamilton continued: “The fight with the car was intense. The thing bounced so much that I almost ran into the wall.
“There’s a safety issue about hitting a wall at 180mph, and I don’t think I’ve ever had to think too much about that as a driver. It’s a very strange experience.
“In the race I was thinking about all the people who are counting on me to get those points and I was really focused on that. But this is definitely the worst thing for me. I haven’t had it that bad this year.”
Despite Hamilton’s physical problems, Sunday’s result was his best result since the opening race in Bahrain, although he was behind Russell on another afternoon.
Hamilton has finished behind Russell every lap since race one and is 37 points behind him in the standings.
Although he drove the same machines, Russell, 13 years younger than Hamilton, appeared to have no back problems as he celebrated his third podium in Mercedes livery.