Mercedes Struggle Through Tricky Baku Qualifying

2023 Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Friday, Mercedes - Lewis Hamilton
2023 Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Friday, Mercedes - Lewis Hamilton

It was a tricky Qualifying session on Friday in Baku for the Mercedes team; as attention now turns to the revised sprint format on Saturday.

Lewis Hamilton qualified fifth and George Russell 11th for Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

With a revised weekend format, there was just a solitary hour of practice before heading into Qualifying. With the priority to understand long-run pace and tyre life in FP1, there was an element of the unknown heading into the session that set the grid for Sunday’s race.

Following an interrupted Q1, George narrowly missed progression from Q2, with Lewis making it through in 10th. In Q3, he produced a strong lap to net fifth for the Grand Prix behind the Ferraris and the Red Bulls.

Saturday sees the teams tackle the new Sprint Shootout format before 17 laps of the F1 Sprint around the Baku City Circuit.

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Lewis Hamilton

‘We’re trying as hard as we can and giving it everything we’ve got out there. Getting into a rhythm and pulling everything out on this track is not easy. In Q2, I struggled. I had more pace, but I didn’t get the last lap together. My first run in Q3 was a sweet lap though. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make a big improvement on my final run; I needed to find just a little bit more time to get ahead of the Ferrari (of Sainz).

‘We can’t make any changes to the car now, so this is the pace we have. I will do some studying tonight and hopefully we can eek a little bit more performance out tomorrow. Naturally, this is not the position we want to qualify as a team; we exist to win but everyone has that winning mindset and working as hard as they can. P5 is still a good position to be starting from on Sunday. Hopefully tomorrow we can have a better battle.’

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George Russell

‘I’d have loved to have got through to Q3, and I was giving it everything. Unfortunately, we’re just not fast enough this weekend. My first lap in Q2 was strong but I made a mistake on my last run. It may have just been enough for me to have crept into Q3, but I don’t think we could have qualified much higher than P8. It’s a funny sport sometimes. We went from qualifying on the front-row last time out in Melbourne to being out in Q2 today. We’ve got another chance tomorrow though, but not an ideal Friday for sure.

‘Baku is a unique track and a bit of an outlier. If you were going to choose a circuit to have a bad Qualifying at, this would probably be it. I see no reason why we can’t fight back on Sunday, and we will see what we can do tomorrow. We will be working hard as a team, and I’ll be working hard myself, to see what we can do to come back stronger.’

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Andrew Shovlin, Trackside Engineering Director

‘The sprint format really rewards you if you land the starting setup in the right place, but we’ve been battling a few issues with ride and balance today that have made it difficult for the drivers. Lewis put together a solid lap in the final session to secure P5 for the Grand Prix. George unfortunately was the wrong side of a very tight bunch and didn’t quite make the cut for Q3.

‘We’re looking forward to the challenge of the new format tomorrow. We get another go at Qualifying tomorrow morning, which sets the grid for the F1 Sprint, so we will work out how we can improve for that. The sprint should also be interesting as so far, we have seen almost no long run data from the teams so it will be interesting to gauge where we sit on race pace.’

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