Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton suggested he might have managed to beat Carlos Sainz to fourth, but is happy with a fifth-placed start for Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
The seven-time World Champion squeezed into the final qualifying session on Friday as team-mate George Russell missed out, but a solid effort in Q3 saw Hamilton qualify fifth – just under two-tenths of a second adrift of fourth-placed Sainz in the Ferrari.
Mercedes has not yet shown race-winning performance this season, but buoyed by this latest qualifying performance and his podium in Melbourne at the start of the month, Hamilton described his first lap in Q3 as “sweet.”
“We’re trying as hard as we can – giving it absolutely everything out there,” he said. “Timing and rhythm and pulling everything together is not easy on this track. I think in Q2 I struggled. I had more pace, I just didn’t get that last lap.
“My Q3 run one was a really sweet lap. I just matched it at the end but I needed just a little bit more time to nip a Ferrari.”
While Mercedes cannot make alterations to its car due to parc ferme regulations, the Briton is optimistic of another strong performance in Saturday’s sprint shootout.
“We can’t do any changes to the car so this is the pace that we have,” explained Hamilton. “So I might be able to eke a little bit more out tomorrow once we do some studying tonight, but this is definitely a good position to start from on Sunday.”
McLaren’s much-anticipated upgrade promised for the fourth round of the season helped both Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri qualify ahead of Russell, but Hamilton emphasised that the German side is itself aiming to make some improvements to its car and move away from the midfield.
“Naturally, this is not the position we want as a team,” he added. “We exist to win, but everyone has that winning mindset and everyone’s working as hard as they can. So, we haven’t had an upgrade this weekend but we’re working towards one that will hopefully put us closer to the battle ahead.”
Mercedes’ straight-line speed deficit to Red Bull this weekend is larger than Hamilton expected, but he is determined to work towards a betterment in that regard.
“I didn’t really know what to expect this weekend,” he said. “I knew the Red Bulls were going to be quick. I didn’t realise we would have such a huge deficit on the straights, but it’s a good indicator.
“We’re slower on the straights and then slower in the middle sector, so we’ve got a lot of work to do to rectify that in the car. It’s not the easiest one to drive, but I’m happy to be on the third row and hopefully tomorrow we can have a bit of a better battle.”