JEDDAH, March 19 — Lewis Hamilton said he does not “feel connected” with his Mercedes car after an underwhelming performance in qualifying for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on Saturday.
The seven-time world champion qualified eighth while teammate George Russell took fourth, but both drivers will gain a place on the grid on Sunday because Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc faces a 10-place grid penalty.
“I just struggled to extract the performance,” said Hamilton, who has complained about the team’s new W14 car this season and whose future has been a subject of speculation this week.
“The car is where it is… I mean, George did a great job, he’s right up there on the second row. So, the car’s obviously got performance.
“I just don’t feel connected to this car. No matter what I do, no matter what I change, I can’t get confidence in it.
“At the moment, it definitely feels like I just couldn’t get any more out of the car.”
Russell admitted that he expected Red Bull’s defending world champion Max Verstappen to have little difficulty in progressing from 15th on the grid, having been eliminated in Q2 when he suffered a driveshaft failure.
His Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez took pole position ahead of Leclerc and Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso.
“Red Bull are just doing an excellent job, the gap to the rest of the field is bigger than we’ve seen in anyone for six, seven, eight years, so it is pretty impressive,” said Russell.
“I think Max is going to come through pretty easily unless there are any incidents.”
Mercedes ‘can fight for podium’
Verstappen won the 2022 Belgian Grand Prix after a grid penalty.
“We saw last year what Max did in Spa, where he started 15th, and this year he has a faster car,” added Russell.
“But, we can definitely fight for a podium. It seems closer here with Aston Martin and Ferrari, who maybe have a tenth or two on us, but we’re starting ahead of them, so there’s no reason why we can’t fight for a podium.”
Alonso, who had been hoping for a chance to secure his first pole in 11 years when Verstappen was eliminated, will be seeking his 100th career podium finish.
“It’s been a very good weekend for us,” he said. “Qualifying was a weakness or a weak point in Bahrain, but today the car seemed to perform very well on one lap.
“So, let’s see what we can do from here! Obviously, with Charles having a penalty, we start from the front row so this is just going to be amazing.”
He conceded that it would be difficult to win the race.
“We are not in that position yet. In pure pace, Red Bull is in another league so I think we have to concentrate on the other teams behind and, if something happens, we will try to take the opportunity.
“Formula One is not exact mathematics, you know! So anything can happen, like today. It happens sometimes.” — AFP