Mercedes F1 look set for another season of roller coaster weekends. Never the bride, sometimes the bridesmaid and at other times just she drink loitering in the back of the photographer’s picture.
The battle in the upper midfield has never looked closer and Saturday’s qualifying was yet another example of this.
Mercedes struggle to get out of Q3
Both Mercedes’ drivers battled to even make it out of Q3, something the McLaren drivers filled with renewed hope from Baku did not manage.
George Russell eventually managed P6 though the British driver believes this flattered to deceive from the real position in the F1 pecking order.
“I’m not going to take much pride in qualifying in sixth place. We were one of the slowest cars to finish a lap in Q3. We were lucky,” Russell explained to French TV.
“We are working to get more results, we need to be able to do better. We need to understand things better, it’s a real challenge. I’m not happy at the moment.”
P6 as good as it will get
If Russell is to be believed his starting position is about as good as it will get in today’s race.
“No top three for me tomorrow, there is a big question mark over the degradation of the tyres, maybe we can benefit from it…
“The Red Bulls are far ahead, the Ferrari’s are constantly ahead of us. I have to sit down to understand this performance …. It’s not easy.”
If Russell was unhappy following qualifying, his team mate Lewis Hamilton was positively distraught on team radio as he criticised the team for their strategic blunder.
Russell on “pathetic” Verstappen
Mercedes strategic blunder for Hamilton
“We left that way too late guys,” Lewis bemoaned as he failed to make it out of Q2 and will start behind both Alex Albon and Nico Hülkenberg outside the top ten.
Sky’s pit lane reporter explained the meaning behind the curt radio message. “To explain what he meant by ‘we left it too late guys’. He means we understand that he feels the team left it too late to send him out of the garage.
“He found himself in traffic, it wasn’t a clean out lap and that compromised his tyre preparation for his fast lap. That was enough to see him out by a couple of tenths.”
Mercedes have struggled all weekend since their glorious debut in practice one which saw both cars top the time sheets.
Lewis mistake hits the wall
Hamilton was hit with an early blow after striking the wall in a bid to avoid Kevin Magnussen’s Haas which was going slowly in the braking zone. The near-miss was investigated by the stewards.
After the second Friday practice Lewis predicted the team were in for a difficult weekend as he explained, “We’re not particularly quick and it’s a struggle out there.
“We’re trying lots of different things. P1 looked quite good and then to come into P2 and the true pace came out – it’s a kick in the guts
“It’s difficult to take sometimes but it’s OK, we’ll keep on working on it and we’ll regroup tonight and see if we can make some set-up changes and get the car in a sweeter spot.”
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Car various from venue to venue
While all the teams with the exception of Red Bull appear to have varying degrees of struggles in getting their cars setup from weekend to weekend, Mercedes appear to suffer more than most in the extreme edges of the envelope as Hamilton explains.
“Melbourne obviously was night and day difference – (it was) much, much nicer to drive there. Baku felt better than here also. I think maybe the heat or maybe just the balance we have at the moment … I’m going to stay optimistic.”
Hamilton is feeling similarities between the current W14 and last years car which was difficult to drive.
“I’m going to stay hopeful that we can get the car in a better place tomorrow and maybe be a couple of steps up. But it feels like, apart from.”
Still “a second down”
“Last year we had hardcore bouncing, (and) it genuinely feels like we are racing pretty much the same car – that’s the difficult thing.”
The team are pinning their hopes on upgrades promised at the car launch and now due next time out in Italy to stop the current run of fortune.
“[It’s the] Same as every weekend … That we’re a second down,” bemoans Hamilton.
“It’s a great weekend; it’s a great place to be [Miami], lots of positives; it’s just we are not particularly quick. It’s a struggle out there. We’re trying lots of different things.”
“As I said, I am trying to stay positive about it. We are working as hard as we can, it’s just we desperately need upgrades, that’s for sure. (We’ve) just got to keep our head down for one more race and hopefully, we can start a new path (at the) next race.”
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Near future the same for Mercedes
The upgrades are the legacy of the outgoing Mercedes’ technical director Mike Elliot whose car design philosophy has been criticised heavily by Lewis Hamilton.
The returning James Allison to the TD role is realistically only likely to influence the car with his signature following the summer recess.
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A qualifying to forget for Lewis Hamilton 😖
The Mercedes driver was knocked out in Q2 and will start Sunday's race from P13 #MiamiGP #F1 pic.twitter.com/VxU3lUMR8U
— Formula 1 (@F1) May 6, 2023