By James Galloway
Mercedes say they have an “awful lot” of performance to find around the Baku City Circuit after enduring their “worst Friday by some margin” in Friday practice at the Azerbaijan GP.
Finishing outside the top 10 with both Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas on an opening day that title rivals Red Bull set an impressive pace, F1’s seven-time champions conceded they had a lot of work ahead of them at the track and back at their factory in the UK ahead of Saturday’s running
Lewis Hamilton lapped one second off the afternoon pace and although happy with how he had driven in Friday’s two sessions, admitted that the W12 was “just slow”.
“In general, I feel like I’m driving well, and the car felt better in P1. In this one there was no more time in it,” said Hamilton after finishing 11th fastest in Practice Two.
“We are definitely quite a chunk down and everyone will be scratching their heads and looking into the data trying to figure out how we can improve.”
Team-mate Bottas, a further second off the pace in 16th place, put it bluntly: “I think there’s something fundamentally wrong and we need to figure out what.”
Mercedes face an important Friday night
‘Figuring out’ that day-one struggle is now Mercedes’ crucial focus ahead of final practice at 10am on Saturday.
Hoping for a more competitive showing this week after a difficult Monaco, when they lost the leaderships of both championship races to Red Bull, Mercedes had nonetheless stressed that the streets of Baku were unlikely to play to their strengths either.
But the scale of Friday’s struggle still represented a significant surprise.
“Today was our worst Friday by some margin,” conceded Andrew Shovlin, the team’s trackside engineering director.
“Our biggest issue seemed to be the single lap; we’re a long way from our normal positions so clearly we need to find something very significant there.
“The long run picture was not as bad – a fair bit behind Red Bull but still in the mix. So, lots to work on overnight; we’re planning a comprehensive programme of analysis and simulator work to try and understand some of these issues but we clearly have an awful lot to find.”
Hamilton, who trails Verstappen by four points in the standings, added: “I was pushing, I was on the limit, but the car is limited. There are areas that I should just be quicker but there’s no more grip.
“But we’ll work at it. Of course, it’s not easy to be out of the top 10 on pace when we’ve had pace in other places. I don’t really know why we are where we are.”
And Bottas added: “It feels like it’s overall grip… the balance is not that far off. OK the car is a bit unpredictable, but it feels like we’re lacking grip and sliding around.
“I think it’s going to be a long night tonight.”
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