Lewis Hamilton believes Q3 could be a step too far for his side of the garage, based on how he found the performance of his Mercedes on Friday.
The seven-time World Champion wound up in 11th place at the end of Friday’s track time at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, finishing over six-tenths of a second down on the best time set by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
Hamilton was never at the sharp end of proceedings on Friday, while teammate George Russell fared little better as he finished in eighth with two-tenths of a second in his pocket over Hamilton’s best.
The pair are adjusting to life with an upgraded Mercedes W14, with the Brackley-based squad having rolled out an updated machine at last weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix. For this weekend, further, small amendments have been made – meaning a weekend of hard work for Mercedes to fettle in their updates and understand them more at a track more representative of the normal demands of the F1 calendar.
Lewis Hamilton: The car feels… like a car
Speaking at the end of the day’s running in Barcelona, Hamilton was asked about how he found the upgrades handling out on track.
“It’s OK. We’re fighting as hard as we can,” he said.
“I would say it was a difficult day one, just getting on top of the tyres and the deg. The car feels… like a car.”
Pushed as to whether he could feel a difference compared to last week’s action in Monaco, where he finished fourth at the end of the Grand Prix, Hamilton said: “I mean, it’s so different from last week. But we’re just focusing… I think the long-run pace didn’t look terrible. We’ve just got to work on trying to figure out how we can extract more from a single lap.”
Having finished the day outside of the top 10, Hamilton admitted that breaking into the upper half of the field could be quite difficult in qualifying.
“I think, from the pace that I had today, it’s a struggle for me currently to get into the top 10,” he conceded.
“But hopefully, we’ll do some changes overnight. I think it’s very, very close between us and that middle… after P5 back to around P10. So it’s really, really close between us all.
“It’s impressive to see the improvements that everyone seems to have made all around us, looking at [Esteban] Ocon, the Alpines are doing great. The Aston Martin was second just right behind the Red Bull, which is really really impressive. So yeah, it’s not gonna be easy, that’s for sure.”
Are Mercedes set to do a rain dance?
Friday ended with gloomy, cloudy conditions setting in, although rain didn’t affect the drivers out on track. But, with rain a possibility this weekend, Hamilton said it could be beneficial for Mercedes to cope with trickier conditions.
“Wet weather could always be a helping hand, given that we’re not as quick as we’d like to be,” he said.
“I’m just going to try and do the best job again tonight, to make the right setup changes and there are definitely improvements I know I can make with this setup so I’ll get on top of that.”
As for the track change that has reverted the final sector to the layout last used in 2006, a layout Hamilton gained experience with that year as he tested with McLaren, he beamed when asked for his thoughts on the change.
“It’s awesome. It’s very fast!” he said.
“I definitely prefer it to the small chicane we had in the past. It’s much more fun. I’ve not followed anyone through there so I don’t know how that’s going to be in the race, but it’s definitely gonna make it tough for [tyre] deg.”