Lewis Hamilton has all but thrown in the towel ahead of Saturday’s qualifying for the 2023 Australian Grand Prix, the seven-time Formula 1 World Champion lamenting the lack of pace in his Mercedes.
The Briton, a record 103-time F1 pole-winner, does not believe he will add to that record tally in Melbourne, and said as much: “We won’t be competing against the Red Bulls tomorrow.”
While top spot on the grid may be out of reach should it remain dry on Saturday afternoon at Albert Park, Hamilton will have found some inspiration with second place in FP1, albeit almost half a second down on pace-setter and race day favourite Max Verstappen in the Red Bull.
Reflecting on his Friday, Hamilton said: “This morning was good, but this afternoon wasn’t as good. We made some changes after FP1 that didn’t quite work and we will look to revert this evening. It also rained in FP2, so it wasn’t the greatest of sessions. You don’t tend to learn a huge amount in those mixed conditions. It’s more about keeping the car safe.
“As we saw this morning, traffic is always an issue here. Everyone had troubles in FP1 with the GPS so hopefully that won’t happen again, and we won’t get in each other’s way. We will be trying to get up as high as possible though; I think we’ve got similar pace to the last race in Saudi Arabia,” reckoned Hamilton.
In FP2, Hamilton’s best effort of 1:29.223s was a tad under 0.5s faster than Russell in the other Black Arrow, but in FP2 Hamilton was 13th fastest, but seven-tenths of a second down on his teammate.
Russell: FP2 was frustrating for everybody with the rain
Hence, the next task for the 103-time Grand Prix winner is to beat Russell, who reported at the end of the day: “Overall, it wasn’t too bad a day. We’ve been making good steps with the car on Fridays.
“We’ve changed a few things and getting the car in a nice window as the weekend progresses. That’s quite satisfying from the driver’s seat, knowing that the car feels better and as a team we have contributed towards that.
“FP2 was frustrating for everybody with the rain. It was still a reasonable session for us though, as we made a step forward from FP1. Let’s see what tomorrow brings with the weather. The rain came in quite suddenly today and there may be some around tomorrow so I would be happy for things to be spiced up,” ventured Russell.
Indeed, with Red Bulls well ahead, only rain will throw the cat among the pigeons in qualifying and on race day, perhaps provide a glimpse of hope to their rivals, but who is to say that the remarkable RB19 is not going to be equally dominant in the wet?
Hamilton and Russell expecting to do plenty laps in Qualifying
After the two desert races in Bahrain and Jeddah, Russell shed light on similarities and siparities: “The difference in tarmac race-to-race has a substantial effect on the car and the feeling of driving it.
“Jeddah and Melbourne have similar tarmac so you can really push the tyres hard. You can do numerous push laps which is unique; in Qualifying, we’re going to be doing lots of laps. That’s different to the norm so it could be exciting.
“We know we’ve got more performance to come in future races, but we need to maximise our chances this weekend. We will keep trying our best to maximise the potential of the car,” declared Russell, who will be hunting F1 win number two on Sunday, to add to his Sao Paulo victory.
The tightly packed, ultra-ugly aero (in)efficient and ineffective Mercedes W14 flopped, evident last season even in the equally awkward W13, which suggests that back at HQ work is flat-out on a radical new design, which may even look like the Red Bull RB19, expected to break cover at Imola.
Thus no surprise that what Hamilton and Russell are toiling with at Albert Park, is pretty much the same piece of kit that served them badly in the two opening races of this season.
Shovlin: We’ve not made significant changes to the W14
Mercedes trackside boss Andrew Shovlin revealed: “This track is similar to Jeddah in several respects, and we’ve not made significant changes to the car. We, therefore, came here expecting to have to manage the same issues as we’ve been dealing with at the last two races.
“It’s been a bit of a messy day with the red flag in the first practice when the GPS systems failed and the rain in the afternoon. We’ve found some good directions in terms of setup, but we didn’t necessarily get all the good bits on the car all at the same time.
“As such, we’ve got a bit of work to do piecing together the findings from the various experiments but that’s just a normal part of a Friday evening.
“The conditions are going to be even colder tomorrow so getting temperature in the tyres could be a challenge in Qualifying. We should have relevant conditions in the final practice session to understand the issues,” concluded Shovlin.
Russell on the other hand, is competing in only his third F1 race Down Under, having made his debut for Williams at Albert Park in 2019, COVID-19 canceled the race in 2020 and 2021; last year he finished third with Hamilton fourth.