The Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team delivered its strongest qualifying performance of the season so far with George Russell in P4 and Lewis Hamilton in P6.
Today’s running confirmed the step forward made with the new upgrades that have been brought to this race and saw both drivers fighting for second row starting positions through the session.
George secured our highest qualifying position of the season so far with P4, and Lewis backed up the strong team performance with P6 although he struggled for rear grip on his final lap.
The unusually hot conditions for this race weekend will make tomorrow’s Grand Prix a challenging race for tyre preservation – and may see strategic variation as the race unfolds, which will offer opportunity to gain positions.
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Today was a good step in the right direction. It’s our best qualifying position as a team this season, ahead of one Red Bull, and a positive session for us as we’ve finally got a good baseline. The pace gap to Ferrari on pole is still big, but there was more potential for us, too – the tyres were not in a perfect window and that made it tricky, especially in Q3. There’s a long race ahead tomorrow and I think we’ll be in a better place then – while some of the cars around us are a bit of an unknown. And on the development, we’ve finally now got a good baseline, and we need to continue this path and find more performance.
We’ve made steps forward this weekend and I’m very proud of the team for all the work they have done. The car is no longer bouncing on the straights, but we still have some in the corners, so we need to keep working. Overall, it’s a positive step to be in Q3 with both cars, and looking at George’s time, we are getting closer to the front. It was a confusing session out there as we had been given a delta time to respect in qualifying for the out laps – and not everybody was doing so. The cars that followed the guidance had a performance disadvantage as the tyres were hotter starting the timed lap, so hopefully that will be examined properly. Looking ahead to the race, we had decent long runs yesterday, and we know the conditions will be very hot – my target will be to go forward from P6.
P4 and P6 are probably the best positions we could have expected to slot into today, given the challenges we have faced in the first five race weekends, and the progress we are now starting to make with the car. I believe we have a race car more than a qualifying car, so we will see how that goes tomorrow; the trend has generally been for Red Bull to be stronger in the race, Ferrari less so, but who knows what will happen tomorrow. Overall, I think we have made a solid step forward this weekend, and we know how to unlock more performance, too. Our rivals have continued development while we have paused to solve the bouncing – so when we pick that up and start to better understand the tyres now the bouncing is gone, then I think we will be closing them down.
It’s frustrating not to be closer to the front; we’ve clearly made progress with the car, but we were getting a bit of overheating in the final sector and once it starts, the sliding generates more temperature, and the problem compounds itself. That explains a good proportion of the gap but no doubt we’ve also got a bit to come on the setup. It’s a very different package that we have brought here and we’re still learning how to get the most out of it. We’re looking forward to tomorrow, our long run looked a more competitive than single lap yesterday so hopefully we can put some pressure on the cars ahead of us and the high degradation should give some interesting options on strategy. Considering the gaps that we were looking at in the last few races, we never expected to close up in a single step so while we can’t be satisfied with fourth and sixth, it is at least encouraging that we have a car that is behaving in a more predictable way and that we are making steps in the right direction.