Lewis Hamilton says Mercedes ‘much nicer to drive’ after qualifying seventh

By Sports Desk April 06, 2024

Lewis Hamilton may have only managed to qualify seventh for the Japanese Grand Prix but he insists his Mercedes has not felt better in three years.

The seven-time world champion will start from the fourth row at Suzuka, with team-mate George Russell in ninth.

While from the outside that would suggest Mercedes once again struggled with an underperforming car – like much of the past two years – Hamilton was in good spirits following Saturday’s qualifying.

Having lamented the gap to pole-sitter Max Verstappen over the team radio during the session, he had a more positive outlook in the aftermath.

“The car has been much nicer to drive this weekend… this is the nicest it has felt in three years,” he said.

“I think we did a really good job over the last week, just the analysis we’ve done at the factory to get the car into a sweet spot.

“This weekend it’s much more in the sweet spot and so I hope that continues in the following races. Then we’ve just got to add performance.

“I think we’ve got the car into a much nicer working window and so it’s been really enjoyable driving, it’s just the guys are just a little bit faster.”

Hamilton has amassed just eight points from the opening three races of the 2024 campaign and retired last time out in Australia.

The early signs are Mercedes face another year of chasing the fastest cars rather than challenging for victories – but the Briont, who will race for Ferrari from next year – feels things are starting to look up.

Asked if he believes Mercedes are now heading in the right direction, Hamilton replied: “I personally believe so.

“We were a second or just over a second off last year to the Red Bull and seven tenths is now better,” he added.

“I think what it’s giving us is I know exactly where the car is not strong enough, I can feel it in the car, and I know now to be tell them to ‘push in this particular area’. But I’m hoping the race will be stronger tomorrow.”

Mercedes were hit with a Euros5,000 (£4,290) fine for an unsafe pit lane release of Russell at the start of qualifying.

Russell will start the race from his lowest grid slot this season but he believes it will be a close battle with the cars in and around him.

“I think it’s just so tight out there between ourselves McLaren, Ferrari and Aston Martin,” he said.

“If you nail your lap you are up at the front of that pack, and if you don’t you will be at the back of that pack, we knew that this circuit was going to be a slight challenge for us. We know our limitation in the high-speed corners.”

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