Lewis Hamilton admitted Mercedes were “a long way off” in free practice for a Belgian Grand Prix he should have a fine chance of winning.
The seven-time former World Champion has been presented with his best opportunity for a first victory of 2023 due to the grid penalties facing Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc.
Both of the leading duo in the Drivers’ standings are staring at lining up on the back three rows of the grid due to exceeding the number of permitted power-unit parts for the campaign.
However, those penalties will potentially be offset to an extent by the fact four other competitors are in the same boat – Lando Norris, Esteban Ocon, Valtteri Bottas and Mick Schumacher, so qualifying results will be more important than would normally be the case for those expecting to start at the back under such circumstances.
That should not apply to Hamilton or his Mercedes team-mate George Russell who, having both finished on the podium at each of the past two races, look the main contenders to triumph at Spa-Francorchamps along with Carlos Sainz and Sergio Perez for Ferrari and Red Bull respectively.
There had also been suggestions the new FIA technical directive introduced for this event may suit Mercedes and hinder their main rivals, but there were no signs of that in Friday practice.
It was still Ferrari in FP1 and Red Bull in FP2 showing the way, with Hamilton ninth and sixth respectively – although both sessions ended with rain falling.
Hamilton is hoping the season’s tendency of Mercedes getting stronger as a weekend progresses will repeat itself again.
Friday done ✅ Time to prepare for the weekend ahead. pic.twitter.com/aKXG8ZCprJ
— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) August 26, 2022
Asked in his post-session interview if Mercedes were heavy on fuel, the 37-year-old Briton replied: “I want to assume the same thing – I wouldn’t say so, no, we are just not very quick. I don’t know why.
“We are going out and giving it everything we’ve got. It could be tyres, tyre temps, wing level, it could be a multitude of things. It doesn’t feel disastrous out there, we are just a long way off.
“But we often find this on the Friday and then things change a bit more on Saturday. I hope that’s the case.”
Asked whether Mercedes may yet have to join those taking engine penalties, Hamilton replied: “Everyone’s at risk, but at the moment we are not taking any penalties.
“The car doesn’t feel the same as it did at the last track in qualifying kind of time, but Friday and Saturday morning it felt kind of similar to this now. That gives me hope that we can turn it around.”