It was a difficult qualifying session for the Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team as Lewis Hamilton and George Russell claimed P6 and P8 respectively on the grid for tomorrow’s Japanese Grand Prix.
A busy FP3 session saw Lewis and George run all three dry tyre compounds and finish in P6 and P7 respectively, just under one second off the fastest time.
Lewis qualified P6 in a close-fought session, with the four cars from P5 to P8 covered by just 0.2 seconds on the final runs of Q3, with the fastest lap around 0.9s faster again.
George took P8 for tomorrow’s grid, just over one-tenth behind his team-mate, having traded best times in the rest of the session.
Weather forecasts predict an increasing probability of rain in the race, which could introduce further unpredictability to strategy choices tomorrow afternoon.
‘We knew coming to this circuit that we wouldn’t be competing for the front row or the win – the Red Bull and Ferrari are in a different league here, and we have some fundamental limitations with our car. It feels good to drive and it was a clean session for me, but we are just a long way off in terms of the ultimate pace. We are pushing as hard as we can and it feels strong in the corners, but we are losing on the straights at this circuit. For tomorrow, I hope we will be a little bit closer, and maybe the weather will play a role, too. I don’t think we can race the cars in front in a straight fight – but I hope we can beat the Alpines and my focus is simply on scoring a better result than we managed last weekend.’
‘P8 is not where we hoped to be qualifying here in Suzuka. We didn’t expect to quite be in the fight with Red Bull and Ferrari, but we are a long way off them, and in fact had our own close battle today with Alpine. We know that our car has a lot of drag and on circuits like this, where you need a lot of downforce but also to be slippery on the straights, we tend to lose out. That’s something we are working towards correcting for next year, but it takes time to do so. Looking ahead to the race, I think we will have stronger pace than we showed today: our long runs in FP3 were decent, but I’m not sure if it will be enough to race the top four cars tomorrow.’
‘We’ve been struggling with the car in the dry today; the race work in the morning wasn’t bad but the single lap was proving difficult, and the tyres just weren’t biting. We’re losing a lot of time on the straights, but the corners are not especially strong either. By qualifying the balance was in a reasonable place but the lap time just wasn’t coming. We stayed on the higher rear wing levels as the degradation in the morning was very high and there is a growing risk of rain in tomorrow’s race. In both of those situations, the wing level should be a benefit. It will not be a benefit getting past the Alpine cars, though, which we need to do early if we stand any chance of getting into a race with Red Bull and Ferrari.’