Mercedes were left looking firmly second best in Sunday’s qualifying session at Suzuka, failing to make it onto the front row for the Japanese Grand prix for the first time in the hybrid engine era.
Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc locked out the front row for Ferrari, while Valtteri Bottas was third fastest for the Silver Arrows ahead of his team mate Lewis Hamilton.
“We seemed quite strong [in practice, but] we always knew Ferrari might have something in reserve to turn things up,” Bottas told Damon Hill after the end of the morning’s qualifying action, which had been delayed from Saturday due to typhoon Hagibis.
- QUALIFYING: Vettel beats Leclerc as Ferrari lock-out Suzuka front row
“Especially in Q3, they were untouchable really,” the Finn admitted. “Again same thing – on the straight lines they’re quicker, through the corners we are good.
“We have the new package here with the new aero bits and it definitely felt better than before, but still not quite enough,” he continued.
“It felt like I got everything out of the car so that’s a good feeling. We did the maximum we can today.
“We’ll try everything we can to get ahead. Nothing is lost yet for us. Obviously hey have the advantage at this starting point but let’s see in a few hours.”
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff admitted that he was “upset” with the result of qualifying, given that Suzuka has been such a strong circuit for the team in recent years.
“This should be a good track for us,” he told Sky Sports F1 afterwards. “The Ferrari, again from Friday, out of nowhere. Once they package it all together, then they are very quick.”
Wolff agreed with Bottas that the new Mercedes upgrade had been effective, but that Ferrari still had the edge.
“I think it worked for us, and I think the car is generally well balanced. We are just lacking on one lap at the moment. Race pace, we are looking good but obviously when you are behind, it is a problem.”
Hamilton himself was doing his best to take the set-back philosophically.
“It could have gone better, but it is what it is,” he commented. “The car was fine, but they obviously turn up and go to another level which we can’t really compete with, power-wise.
“The car was feeling good,” he insisted. “Our first Q2 run was really solid, the second run was not so great, and then the next two [in Q3] were just so-so.”
Hamilton agreed with comments that high winds had been a factor in qualifying, which saw early accidents for Robert Kubica and Kevin Magnussen exiting the final corner.
“It’s super gusty out there,” he said. “Just picking your point where to place the car, it makes it a little bit trickier.
“You have to back off at some places but you can push more at others,” he explained. “It’s definitely very tricky out there particularly the last corner.”
But overall Hamilton was pleased to be back in action after yesterday’s enforced lay-off, and relieved to know he’ll be back on track again this afternoon.
“It’s a beautiful day, everyone’s safe, so hopefully we have a good race.”
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