Lewis Hamilton expressed relief with the improved performance of his W14 after “nightmare” Friday. Overnight changes seemed to have got him back on track, although the tight balance needed for qualifying presented a challenge.
An upturn in Q2 performance saw Hamilton reach as high as fourth. Eventually, he placed seventh in Q3, nudging in front of George Russell, fellow Mercedes team member. This progression showed the Mercedes‘ strengths, ranking as the fourth-best performing car at Suzuka, just behind the Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari models.
Hamilton disclosed the extent of his effort, remarking that he extracted as much as he possibly could from the car after some adjustments were made overnight. “I was really much, much happier with qualifying,” he remarked, recounting the noticeable distinction from the disappointing induction to the race. “Yesterday, it started off looking like it was not going to be so great! But I think the set-up was in the right direction. And then from P3 to qualifying, I made another setup change.”
Despite these improvements, however, Hamilton explained the difficulty of maintaining optimal car performance, likening it to balancing a knife on its tip.
Hamilton also articulated frustration at being more than a second behind pole leader Max Verstappen. “A second gap is huge, and it’s real,” Hamilton voiced his concerns. “To be two years in [to these rules], and still be a second down, compared to the Red Bulls, it’s showing, and we really need to do a good job in the winter to get back at least half that gap before next year.”
These frustrations came despite the efforts of Mercedes‘ trackside director of engineering, Andrew Shovlin. Shovlin noted that Hamilton initially struggled with the car, but made considerable progress due to the changes made to cater to the twisty first part of the lap. The focus had been altered to tackle the changes in direction.
Shovlin outlined the process stating, “We did similar things with both cars overnight. Trying to focus a bit more on sector one, because we were actually okay in the low speed, and it was sector one where we were very weak.” He went on to explain the problematic hot tyres that would occur due to excessive sliding in that sector, compromising the car’s performance.
He concluded, “But I think it was more Lewis just wasn’t happy to carry the speed yesterday, and today he has got on with it a lot better.”