Lewis Hamilton could be forced to miss next weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix with back pain which left the British driver “praying” for Sunday’s race in Azerbaijan to end.
Hamilton’s Mercedes boss Toto Wolff made the alarming admission about his superstar driver moments after Sunday’s round on the streets of Baku which was won by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
“Yes, definitely, ” said Wolff, when asked if there is a danger Hamilton, 37, will not be able to compete in Montreal.
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“He is really bad. You can see this is not muscular anymore. It goes properly into the spine and it can have some consequences.
“The solution could be to have someone on reserve, which we anyway have at every race.”
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 the 51 laps remaining: “Aaargh, my back is killing me, man!”
The seven-time world champion finished 71 seconds behind Verstappen and struggled to get out of his cockpit at the conclusion of the race.
He later admitted he had concerns about reaching the chequered flag.
“There were a lot of moments when I didn’t know whether I was going to make it and if I was going to be able to keep the car on track,” said Hamilton.
“That was the most painful and toughest race I have experienced.
“I was just holding and biting down on my teeth due to the pain. The adrenaline helped, but I cannot express the pain that you experience, particularly on the straight here. I was just praying for it to end.”
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 a number of the other teams – although not all of them – is the new-for-2022 phenomenon of porpoising which sees the car bouncing on its suspension at high speed.
Hamilton continued: “The battle with the car was intense. The thing was bouncing so much that I was nearly going into the wall.
“There is a safety concern about bashing into a wall at 180mph, and I don’t think I’ve ever had to think about that too much as a racing driver. It is a very strange experience.
“In the race I had to think of all the people that rely on me to get those points and that is really what I was focused on. But this is definitely the worst for me. I haven’t had it this bad this year.”
Despite Hamilton’s physical woes, Sunday’s result was his best since the opening race in Bahrain, although it marked another afternoon where he trailed Russell.
Hamilton has finished behind Russell at every round since the first race, and is 37 points behind him in the standings.
Although driving the same machinery, Russell, 13 years Hamilton’s junior, did not appear to have any back complaints as he celebrated his third podium in Mercedes colours.