While Hamilton was not too disheartened to qualify fifth in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, just behind Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, the near one-second gap to poleman Charles Leclerc was an eye-opener.
And reflecting on the scale of the top-speed advantage that Red Bull has, and the way Ferrari is so quick in the middle sector, Hamilton said Azerbaijan has exposed the scale of work Mercedes needs to put in.
Despite Mercedes having introduced a revised rear wing endplate to reduce drag, the speed trap figures of the top cars across the start-finish line showed Max Verstappen hit 339.1km/h in qualifying, with Hamilton reaching 335.5km/h.
Speaking about the swing of form since Mercedes challenged Red Bull in Australia, Hamilton said: “I knew that the Red Bulls would be particularly quick, but 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 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 I think hopefully tomorrow we can have a bit of a better battle.”
Hamilton felt that there had been the potential to enjoy a stronger qualifying session, but he never felt fully comfortable with the car.
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes-AMG
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
“We’re trying as hard as we can, giving it absolutely everything out there,” he said. “Just timing and getting into the rhythm and really pulling out everything is not easy on this track.
“I think in Q2 I struggled. I had more pace, and I just didn’t get that last lap.
“My Q3 run one was a really sweet lap, and I just matched it basically at the end, but we needed just a little bit more time just to nip at Ferrari.”
Mercedes team-mate George Russell had a more disappointing time as he got dumped out of Q2, so will start Sunday’s race from 11th on the grid.
Russell said a mistake he made on his final Q2 run cost him the chance to go through to Q3 – but admitted things have not been smooth.
“We’re not fast enough this weekend,” he said. “Obviously I would have loved to be in Q3. I was giving it everything, the lap was strong, but I made a mistake on my last one and that just crept me out.
“It’s a funny sport this one sometimes, going from qualifying on the front row last race [in Australia], to myself being out in Q2, and Lewis just getting in with P10. So, yeah, we’re got…
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