Lewis Hamilton says he had a “lack of confidence” in his Mercedes car throughout Friday practice for this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix.
While neither Mercedes featured in the top 10 in FP1 after electing not to run the Soft compound, Hamilton was again stranded down the order in the second session.
The seven-time World Champion could only post a 1:31.829s on his best Soft tyre run, ending up down in 14th place and 1.1s behind Max Verstappen’s benchmark time.
Having described last weekend’s second practice hour in Singapore as his “best FP2 session” of the year, the Briton lamented being unable to get on top of the W14 by the end of running Friday running in Suzuka.
“It was a very challenging day for us out there,” Hamilton rued. “I had a lack of confidence in the car and that contributed to our struggles.
“It was difficult to find the right balance and we didn’t manage to get on top of it by the end of FP2. The tyres were overheating and that left us quite far off the top of the timing sheets.”
He added: “[I’m a] Long way off. Two seconds off in the first session, and over a second in the second. Just working away, trying to fix the car, fix the balance.”
Hamilton believes Mercedes’ contrasting competitiveness in Singapore, where it mounted a challenge for victory, and Japan demonstrates that its W14 car is fundamentally weaker when it comes to encountering high-speed circuits.
“It’s just figuring out what is wrong. We’re obviously much closer in the last race, because we didn’t have any high speed, only one high-speed corner, but it’s not as high as the speed of the corners here,” he explained.
“And our car has more often than not been a little bit weaker in high-speed corners. Places like Silverstone for example, Copse, it’s one of our weaker corners.
“So yeah. An area where we need to work on getting the car in more of a sweet spot, and not overheat our tyres as much.”
However, Hamilton is confident Mercedes will recover lost ground in time for qualifying, citing that the team has recovered from a tough Friday on multiple occasions.
“We know we’ve got a lot of work to do tonight to pick up the performance. I do believe we can make improvements though,” he contended.
“We have had similar Fridays this season and come back stronger on Saturday. We will see tomorrow if we have done so again. We will be putting in the effort this evening to give us every chance of getting ourselves higher up the order.”
Meanwhile, team-mate George Russell enjoyed a stronger run to prop up inside the top five but remained behind the two Ferraris and McLaren’s Lando Norris, who he tipped for a strong weekend outing yesterday.
Russell believes the low-grip nature of the track surface heavily contributed to Mercedes’ Friday struggles.
Reflecting on the opening day of running, Russell said: “It feels great to back driving around Suzuka. It’s such an incredible circuit.
“It’s been a slightly strange Friday for us. The track seemed to have very low grip, particularly in FP1, so the car is sliding around quite a lot. That doesn’t give you the best feeling in the world as a driver. Particularly when you’ve got plenty of high-speed corners to tackle.
“The race on Sunday will also be interesting as tyre degradation looks very high.”
With Red Bull asserting itself back at the top after its slump in Singapore last weekend, Russell reckons Mercedes is currently lagging behind Ferrari and McLaren.
But the Briton has echoed Hamilton’s comments by backing the Brackley-based squad to find the required gains overnight to be the second-best team this weekend.
“In terms of the relative order, the Red Bull looks to have returned to its normal pace at the front. They have been exceptionally quick today. I think we are likely half-a-step behind the Ferraris and the McLaren of Lando Norris at present,” he assessed.
“We’ve got a bit of work to do tonight to close that gap. We are typically strong at finding those performance gains so we can be optimistic of improving for tomorrow.”