At the end of Friday, the first day of practice for the 2022 Belgian Grand Prix, Mercedes were lacking well over a second to pace-setting Max Verstappen at a race they expected to further close the gap to the leaders.
If that is indeed the target, they have work to do to extract over a second out of the stubborn W13 around Spa-Francorchamps, with Lewis Hamilton finishing a “tricky” day fifth fastest, 1.385 of Verstappen’s benchmark time in the Red Bull.
Notably, quicker on the day than the ‘works’ Mercedes duo were McLaren’s Lando Norris and Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll, third and fourth respectively on the FP2 timesheets, in customer cars.
With George Russell even slower in the other Silver Arrow, a tenth and a bit further down and only good for eighth on the FP2 timesheets, the Mercedes debrief afterwards would have been an interesting one as they seem bewildered by the lack of pace.
Summing up his Friday at Spa, Hamilton said in the team report: “We just weren’t very quick and I’m not sure why – it could be tyre temps, wing levels, a multitude of things. It doesn’t feel disastrous out there, we’re just a long way off.
We’ve experienced that a few times this season on a Friday and then things improve on the Saturday, I hope that’s the case this weekend. We’ve just got to work hard tonight, analyse the data to try and figure out how we get this car in a better place.
“The car doesn’t feel the same as Budapest in terms of qualifying pace but it’s not far off how it felt on the Friday so that gives me hope,” concluded Hamilton.
Russell: We’re pretty used to having bad Fridays so let’s see if we can turn it around
Echoing his more experienced teammate, Russell reported: “Tyre temperature is something we’ve struggled with this season and I struggled quite a lot on every compound.
“In these conditions, it’s definitely something we need to work on. But we know that once you get temperatures in the right window, you can find a huge amount of performance, so there’s a little optimism there.
“We’re pretty used to having bad Fridays so let’s see if we can turn it around. I don’t think there’s any guarantee we can find the performance that we had in the last race but we’ll be working flat out tonight to try and get on top of it.
“Totally different day [Saturday] when conditions will be very different, hopefully, warmer and drier so let’s see what it brings.
“There’s not much to compare here to Budapest – a low downforce track, cold and wet conditions, not many comparable settings you can carry over – but that’s the unique thing about F1, every single time you go out you have different conditions and limitations to work around,” explained Russell.
Shovlin: We do need to find a bit of pace overnight
Mercedes trackside boss Andrew Shovlin added: “Quite a messy day with a bit of a rain and a red flag but we were able to get a read on the main issues to work on overnight.
“Our single lap performance clearly needs a bit of focus, neither driver had a good feel for the Soft tyre and probably we’re not getting it into the right window.
“There wasn’t much useful learning on a long run given the conditions. We had the Hard tyre in the second session which was particularly difficult in the cool and damp but the Medium was working reasonably well in FP1.
“Clearly there is an opportunity with the number of cars that are taking penalties, but we do need to find a bit of pace overnight if we are to capitalise on that,” said Shovlin.
Ahead of Round 14 of the 22-race 2022 F1 World Championship, Mercedes, reigning F1 constructors champions, lie third down 197 points on leaders Red Bull and training second-placed Ferrari by 30.
In the 2022 F1 drivers championship standings Max Verstappen leads on 258 points; Russell is 100 points adrift in fourth with Hamilton on 146 in sixth. The Briton has won at Spa on four occasions.