Lewis Hamilton acknowledged the force that was Ferrari in Las Vegas Grand Prix qualifying, while he was out in Q2 as the Mercedes “just wasn’t working”.
There was the potential for some qualifying shocks with the cool temperatures placing great emphasis on getting the Pirelli tyres in the right working window.
And Hamilton was a big-name casualty as he missed the cut for Q3, meaning he will start P10, following the application of Carlos Sainz’s 10-place penalty.
Ferrari impress as Lewis Hamilton struggles in Mercedes
After his Q2 exit was confirmed, Hamilton came over team radio to make the alarming admission that he did not have any further pace to unlock, a stance he stuck to post-qualifying.
Asked how the car felt in qualifying, Hamilton told Sky F1: “It’s not that great. Yesterday was feeling a little bit better and we were looking relatively competitive.
“Made some changes overnight. FP3 was pretty poor, that kind of put me on the back foot and then I was just trying to recover basically in qualifying, which is never the place to do so.
“I just struggled with grip, the car just wasn’t working for me. And it’s definitely difficult when you can’t even get through Q2.”
While Hamilton will be looking to rescue a good points haul in the race, something which he has doubts over at this stage, Ferrari positioned themselves nicely for the win with an emphatic qualifying display, Charles Leclerc to start from pole with Max Verstappen for company, Leclerc going almost four-tenths faster than the Red Bull driver in Q3.
It would have been a Ferrari front-row lockout if it were not for Sainz’s penalty, the Scuderia delivering a performance which impressed Hamilton.
Put to him that Sunday is where the points come, Hamilton replied: “My guess is as good as yours.
“One with the car and also it’s to do with the tyre graining, we had massive graining like everybody.
“We had some rear graining in FP3, so I think how you manage it and how you progress, where you push and where you don’t tomorrow is going to be key.
“But I mean, it’s impressive watching the Ferrari today. It’s a quick car!”
Hamilton’s comments echoed those of his team-mate George Russell as tyre management looks set to play a crucial role in the outcome of the Las Vegas Grand Prix.
Russell got the tyres working far better than Hamilton in qualifying and will start P3 as a result, the fact that Mercedes have one driver in the top three and another out in Q2 mystifying for team boss Toto Wolff.
“It remains a mystery,” said Wolff as he struggled to process what went down in qualifying.
“Having the tyres in the right window and you can see the difference. We already saw it in Free Practice 3. Very difficult to understand.
“I think we’re talking really about four or five degrees of temperature difference between grip and no grip.
“And you can see there are some teams, the McLarens, they play at the front and they are out in Q1, then on the other side the Ferraris putting in stunning laps, both of them, half a second ahead of everybody else.”
Wolff, who expects Leclerc and Verstappen to be fast out front, feels Russell must pay very close attention to this tyre management if he is to remain in the hunt for the race win.
“It wasn’t looking good on our car,” said Wolff of Mercedes’ tyre graining levels, “but we ran at a different time this morning, very early on a slippery track.
“I think Verstappen and Leclerc, they’re going to be very fast and he just needs to manage it from there and be patient until the worst part of the tyre is gone.”
Mercedes are 20 points ahead of Ferrari in the battle for P2 in the Constructors’ Championship, Las Vegas serving as the penultimate round of F1 2023.