LEWIS HAMILTON has been offered "protection" by Mercedes boss Toto Wolff as the Brit's struggles continue.
The seven-time world champion suffered his worst weekend in F1 at Imola, posting a 13th-placed finish while teammate George Russell was fourth.
Retirements aside, it was only the third time Hamilton had finished outside the top 10 in a Mercedes.
He is now a whopping 58 points behind championship leader Charles Leclerc after only four races in what is increasingly becoming a problem for the 37-year-old.
Hamilton was given an apology by Wolff as he crossed the line and now the Austrian has backed his driver to bounce back – pointing out that it is the car which is at fault, not his driver.
He said: "The real stars, they have recovered.
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"There are none out there, of the really great ones that come into my mind, that didn't have a certain moment in their career where things didn't run properly and that is the case now with him.
"He is going to help the team to sort itself out and we are sticking together through good and bad times and today certainly was a very bad day.
"In a way, I have to protect him here. It's not his low, I think it is the low of the car performance.
"We know that he is a seven-time world champion. We know that he caught up last year, him and us as a team, we caught up and nearly fought for the championship, which was actually lost on Saturday in Brazil.
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"The guy is the best driver in the world and he is just not having a machine and equipment underneath him to be able to execute.
"In a way, I think it's even irrelevant whether you come in eighth or 12th or 15th, it doesn't matter, it's all bad."
However, Hamilton's former Mercedes teammate, Nico Rosberg is not so sympathetic and says he IS to blame.
Rosberg, who won the 2016 title, also says Wolff's public support for Hamilton is also done with the view of keeping him motivated.
He added: "Let's not forget that Russell is in P4 with that same car, so Lewis definitely had a big role to play in that poor result this weekend.
"Russell still managed to get P4 out of it with a brilliant weekend, so there was more in that car.
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"Toto is just trying to lift him up, because it's so important to try and make sure that Lewis keeps that motivation through the whole season; it's important for the team.
"It's quite easy for Lewis to lose [motivation] in these kinds of situations."
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