Thanks to the quirks of modern Formula 1 rules, the fact that Hamilton was only seventh fastest he will start ahead of Verstappen for tomorrow’s race, Round 14 of the 2022 F1 World Championship, because the Dutchman chose to take engine penalties for this race.
The thinking at Red Bull is that with the pace in the RB18 coupled with Verstappen’s current blistering form, Spa is the ideal place to take those inevitable PU-penalties.
Nevertheless, the hard facts for Mercedes, who arrived in Belgium talking-the-talk about closing the gap to Red Bull and Ferrari, instead it is quite clear they have no clue where they are going with the awkward W13.
Hamilton edged teammate George Russell by a tenth and a bit, despite the seven-time F1 World Champion taking his time to find pace relative to the sister Mercedes, in the end his best effort (which might have earned him pole in years before) was way off Verstappen.
Hamilton will start the race from the second row alongside old foe Alonso with Russell fifth
On the positive side for both Mercedes drivers, with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, and Alpine’s Esteban Ocon joining Verstappen towards the back of the grid, both Mercedes will be well positioned to unleash what they hope is better race pace to salvage something after a Saturday in which they were thoroughly outperformed and exposed.
Speaking afterwards to reporters, a despondent Hamilton reflected: “Everyone is working for improvements. We came here very optimistic we could be close, but to be 1.8 seconds behind is a real kick in the teeth.
“It’s a car we continue to struggle with and definitely won’t miss it at the end of the year. For me, it’s just focusing on how we build and design next year’s car.
“The teams ahead of us are in another league and our car looked so much different today. We’ve got a lot of work to do, and we’ll do the best we can with what we have for the rest of the season,” declared Hamilton, a four-time winner at Spa-Francorchamps in the past but this year still hunting his first victory of the season.”
As if writing off this year, Hamilton added in the Mercedes team report: “We have to regroup and make sure next year’s car is where we need it to be, and we’ll do the best we can with what we have for the rest of the season.
“We were a little too draggy and the aero balance through the corners wasn’t stable so it’s very hard to work around that but we’ll try our best for tomorrow.
Knowing how hard everyone is working, I’m gutted for the team because we’re giving it our all but it’s the fundamentals of this car – sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s really bad,” concluded Hamilton.
Russell: Mercedes qualifying P7 and P8 is not where we want to be
In the other Silver Arrow, teammate Russell was equally confounded by the lack of performance they could extract from the problematic W13: “It’s difficult to comprehend how we were on pole in the last race but 1.8 seconds off today, and we aren’t just losing time to Max, we were six tenths behind the Alpines.
“When the temperatures are cold, we struggle and as we also saw in Imola this year, we find it difficult to get the tyres working. I’m confident we’ll have a lot more pace tomorrow compared to the Alpines, McLarens and the Williams too, but we will still be 0.5s/1.0s behind Red Bull and Ferrari.
“We need to look overnight to try and understand our pace but it’s good to get qualifying out of the way, it has been a weak point for us, and I’m sure we’ll be faster in the race.
“Mercedes qualifying P7 and P8 is not where we want to be, and we know that’s not where the car is, so we’ve got work to do tomorrow to get a good result,” added Russell, who will start the race from the top of row three.