Lewis Hamilton mystified by Mercedes pace deficit with ‘decent’ car

Thomas Maher
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton at the Belgian Grand Prix. Spa-Francorchamps, July 2023.

Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton at the Belgian Grand Prix. Spa-Francorchamps, July 2023.

Lewis Hamilton and George Russell were pleased with the handling of their Mercedes at the end of Friday’s qualifying.

Lewis Hamilton and George Russell will start Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix from third and eighth places, respectively, after a hectic qualifying session in rapidly improving weather conditions.

Having had just a single session to decide on their setups, the Mercedes cars diverged – Lewis Hamilton running visually less rear wing than his teammate.

Lewis Hamilton: Qualifying was all about maximising track time

Hamilton’s best time in Q3 was a 1:47.0, 0.9 seconds down on polesitter Max Verstappen’s time, which put him in fourth place on the timing screens.

But, due to a five-place grid penalty for Verstappen, he still start ahead of the Red Bull driver as Verstappen is demoted to sixth, with the second to sixth-placed drivers all moving up a sport.

Hamilton explained how qualifying had gone from his perspective after climbing out of his W14.

“It was definitely very hectic because it was just consistently drying up,” he told F1.com.

“Very slippery at the beginning and difficult to see.

“[It was about] just maximising because you know that every lap is going to be faster on the next lap, so making sure you’re just out and that’s why we were at the end of pit lane early each session.

“The team did a great job in getting us out, and quick turnarounds, and yeah, I was just head down, just maximising as much as I could.

“In the end, I was still a good chunk off Max, [who was] pretty impressive, but I’m really happy with the result.”

What are Lewis Hamilton’s goals for the Belgian Grand Prix?

Asked whether it’s possible to target the podium from his third-place grid slot, Hamilton said it’s purely a guessing game given the lack of setup time afforded to the drivers due to the Sprint format.

“I guess I’ve got Max behind but yeah, that’ll be the goal, of course, to chase those guys down,” he said.

“With P1 wet running and getting the setup ready for qualifying today, when it eventually went to dry… it’s just like a big guessing game.

“I’m hoping that the car is decent in the long run tomorrow in the [Sprint] race. But, so far, it’s a good start.”

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Hamilton admitted to feeling mystified by the car’s lack of pace, given he had actually been quite pleased with the handling.

“It didn’t feel bad today. It was just generally the car was doing pretty decent. It’s just the middle sector, we’re losing a second,” he said.

“So I’m gonna go and study it’s trying to figure out where that is and if there’s any way with the package that I have, whether I can close that.

“But we obviously need to work on making some improvements. But I’ll give it absolutely everything I’ve got tomorrow, and hopefully, next qualifying will be as good.”

George Russell: We were nowhere

Russell, who qualified a further 0.7 seconds back from his teammate, has gone in a different setup direction to Hamilton, and admitted he simply didn’t have any more pace to offer.

“It was a dynamic session but we’ve just been off the pace, to be honest, we were struggling in that session and don’t really know why,” he explained.

“I usually love those transitional sessions, but we were nowhere so we’ve a bit to try and review, and understand. We know qualifying isn’t everything around here but we definitely would have liked to have been higher up.

“The car didn’t feel too bad, just slow overall. So we have a bit to try and understand. P8 isn’t a horrendous place to start for Sunday, but definitely would like to be higher up the order.”

Toto Wolff, speaking to Sky F1, confirmed the different rear wing configurations for his drivers, and said fortunes may switch around come race day.

“[George] has a bit of a barn door on the back,” he said.

“That can be advantageous for tyre performance on Sunday. It didn’t help today so we need to assess why it didn’t.”

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