Lewis Hamilton taken aback by ‘huge’ Mercedes deficit on Baku straights

Jamie Woodhouse
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, follows a Ferrari. Azerbaijan, April 2023.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, following a Ferrari car in Baku. Azerbaijan, April 2023.

Lewis Hamilton says Mercedes still have a lot of work to do to “rectify” the W14 after alarming time losses down the straights in Azerbaijan GP qualifying.

While the true major changes to the W14 are expecting to arrive at Imola, Mercedes did nonetheless show up in Baku with a new front and rear endplate, rear corner and a new front suspension.

But it does not seem like those alterations have taken Mercedes closer to the leading pace yet, quite the opposite instead rather alarmingly, with Hamilton just scraping through to Q3, while George Russell could not clear that hurdle.

Hamilton ultimately went on to secure P5 on the grid for Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, having finished almost a second off the surprise pacesetter, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who stretched his Baku pole streak to three in a row.

And at a track which tests a car’s straight-line speed, especially that monster start-finish straight which sees the drivers at full throttle for 2.2 kilometres, Hamilton had not expected Mercedes to be in such poor shape against rivals Red Bull and Ferrari in that respect.

“I didn’t really know what to expect this weekened,” Hamilton admitted in Baku, after taking a P2 finish last time out in Australia. “I knew that the Red Bulls would be particularly quick.

“I didn’t realise we would have such a huge deficit on the straights, but it’s a good indicator, we’re slower on the straights and then slower in the middle sector, so we’ve got a lot of work to do to rectify that in the car, it’s not the easiest one to drive.

“I’m happy to be on the third row and hopefully tomorrow we can have a bit of a better battle.”

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With the cars now into parc ferme conditions ahead of the sprint shootout and race on Saturday, Hamilton is hopeful that he can still “eke” a little more pace out of that W14.

But, ultimately he declared that Mercedes “exist to win”, and so he hopes that the upgrades to come will be the ones that move them back towards achieving this goal.

“We’re trying as hard as we can, giving it absolutely everything out there and just timing and getting into rhythm and really pulling out everything is not easy on this track,” he said.

“I think in Q2, yeah, struggled. I had more pace, I just didn’t get that last lap. My Q3, run one was a really sweet, sweet lap, unfortunately I just matched it basically at the end, but needed just a little bit more time just to nip a Ferrari [Carlos Sainz].

“We can’t do any changes to the car, so this is the base that we have, so I might be able to eke a little more out tomorrow, but this is definitely a good position to start from on Sunday.

“Naturally, this is not the position we want as a team, we exist to win, but everyone has that winning mindset and everyone’s working as hard as they can, so we haven’t had an upgrade this weekend, but we’re working towards one that will hopefully put us a little bit closer to the battle ahead.”

Mercedes’ one-lap pace will be put to the test again on Saturday as the drivers return to qualifying action, albeit in a shortened version of the Q1, Q2 and Q3 sessions, before the focus then moves on to racing with the first sprint of F1 2023.