Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Suzuka, 2023

Hamilton says he needs to close gap to Russell after ending “bad day” 14th

Formula 1

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Lewis Hamilton had a difficult start to the first day of practice for the Japanese Grand Prix.

The Mercedes driver ended Friday’s two practice sessions in 16th and 14th place. He was over 1.1 seconds slower than pace-setter Max Verstappen and half a second down on his team mate, George Russell.

“It was a bad day, to be honest,” said Hamilton. “I really struggled out there. I’m a long way off: Two seconds off in the first session and over a second in the second. So just working away at trying to fix the car, fix the balance.”

Mercedes enjoyed a more competitive weekend in Singapore but Hamilton said the high-speed corners at Suzuka are showing up some of the cars’ weaknesses.

“We were obviously much closer in the last race where we didn’t have any high-speed [corners], pretty much, only one high speed corner but it’s not as high as the speed of the corners here.

“Our car has, more often than not, been a little bit weaker at high speed corners, at places like Silverstone, for example, Copse. So that’s an area where we need to work on getting the car in a little bit more of a sweet spot and not overheating our tyres as much. But we’ll work on it overnight and try to turn it around for tomorrow.”

Hamilton has not been as competitive as Russell in qualifying since the season resumed following the summer break. He said he needs to close the gap to his team mate tomorrow.

“We definitely won’t be winning this weekend,” he said. “If I can particularly move up a little bit further up the order so I can at least back up George, [he] did not such a bad lap. But a tough one.”

Russell was more satisfied with his car’s balance, describing his day as “half-reasonable.”

“Red Bull are back to their normal ways, which I don’t think is a major surprise for many,” he continued. “They seem very, very quick.

“We’re not too far from P2, I think there’s two tenths in it. So it’s going to be a good fight between Ferrari and Lando [Norris] but also you have cars like Alex up there, as you often see in qualifying.”

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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41 comments on “Hamilton says he needs to close gap to Russell after ending “bad day” 14th”

  1. Good to see LH is looking at ( and talking about ) his performance rather than Red-Bull and MV. He really needs to close gap to Russel.
    MV beats Perez almost always. I do not know how many other drivers have beaten Perez but I am sure no one has dominated Perez like MV. Actually MV has dominated all his teammates.

    1. Depends on how you define “all” and “dominate” – beaten by Ricciardo in 2017. Aggressive was the general description, so yes “dominated”

      2015 yes – Sainz
      2016 – difficult to say swapped teams, finished season lower than new teammate Ricciardo
      2017 – finished season behind teammate Ricciardo (200 vs. 168)
      2018 beat Ricciardo – collisions and incidents involving various people including Hamilton, Vettel, and even his teammate(“aggressive defending” was the stewards view): Team principal Christian Horner commented on Verstappen’s start of the season, saying he “needed to stop making these mistakes” and that he could “learn from his teammate”
      2019 beat Albon (Ricciardo had left for Renault, mutters about uneven treatment)
      2020 beat Albon
      2021 beat Perez
      2022 beat Perez

      That does highlight the general level of competition from his teammates, though. Different thread…

      1. Verstappen hardly ‘dominated’ Sainz. He outscored him, sure and had two great stand-out performances with 4th places (Sainz was close behind in Hungary until he retired), but in terms of averages they were pretty much line astern. This tense situation infamously led to some rather acrimonious exchanges in the Toro Rosso pitbox involving the fathers of both drivers.

    2. There is a 71 points gap between Hamilton and Russell. I would say looking at where he is in the championship I think he is doing a good job of closing the gap to anyone who isn’t driving a Redbull…

      1. The 71 point lead, although fully deserved, is misleading and is not indicative of a performance difference on track between Lewis and George though. Russell has now had 3 x DNF’s plus the mistake at Monaco which lost him more points. Mistakes are part of what George needs to eliminate, and if he does, and doesn’t suffer mechanical DNF’s, his WDC standing would be much, much closer to that of Lewis.

        1. Russell’s DNFs in Canada and Singapore were entirely down to him, though.

      2. There is a 71 points gap between Hamilton and Russell. I would say looking at where he is in the championship I think he is doing a good job of closing the gap to anyone who isn’t driving a Redbull…

        There is no gap to anyone who isn’t driving a Red Bull; Hamilton passed Alonso with the Singapore result – Alonso had a seriously bad weekend there.
        More to the point, pre-Singapore Perez was 49 points ahead of his nearest rival:- Alonso
        and he’s now 43 points ahead of his nearest rival:- Hamilton
        That’s 6 points dropped to Hamilton, but if Alonso had been in the position Hamilton finished, that would have been 12 dropped.

        I pointed this out the other week – Perez cannot afford to drop points at that rate, or he will lose 2nd place in the WDC

    3. MV beats Perez almost always.

      TBF, both Lewis and George often outqualify and beat Perez despite Perez driving arguably the most dominant rocketship of all time

      1. This RBR is no more dominant than the Mercedes that won all races in the championship but 2.

        Nor is more dominant than the one Schumi had when he finished all races in the podium.

        Nor is more dominant than the one Hakkinen had when he won the championship.

        And I can give you more examples based on data that can easily corroborate.

      2. Arguably in your head maybe

      3. And when “all time” began for you? Last month, maybe

    4. ‘Hamilton is rubbish. Max is best. Max beats everyone. I like Max. So I feel good about myself. It must mean I’m special too.’
      Have you thought about growing emotionally past the age of 4?

      1. @david-br, hope your comment is not a response to mine since I wasn’t attacking nor defending any driver.

        Regardless, I agree that there is a bunch of people here that only drop toxic/stupid comments…mainly Max and Lewis’ detractors.

        Anuj’s comment is a bit over the top, but people like MadMax, armchair and Michael (freelittlebirds) are way worse.

        Genuine question: how do we address them? Like ignore them, call them out?

        1. @Doggy not in response to you at all. But to answer your question, ignore (mostly).

        2. In my opinion armchair is really really biased, he also makes factual statements, as in the data he brings is usually spot on, but he interpretes it in the wrong way and always in verstappen’s favour, such as saying red bull had the 8th fastest car in singapore, qualifying is not race pace and that has never been truer than this year, with red bull being regularly much faster in the race, and that’s what happened even in singapore.

          Madmax didn’t strike me as particularly biased, to the point I don’t even remember over the top comments, michael can be very very anti-verstappen\red bull and very pro hamilton, but I think he makes good points in other circumstances.

          I personally would always prefer answering to over the top comments than ignoring.

          As for the main comment, what doesn’t make sense is that verstappen didn’t dominate ricciardo or sainz, for example, and also beating perez gives less credit than beating hamilton or russell; furthermore, as someone said, hamilton is actually overall outperforming russell, massively in points but he’s doing well performance wise too, he was slow in singapore quali, which might’ve cost him the win, but usually he’s up there.

    5. Is this that armchair banana on a different account? Very similar writting and content.

      Both completely disposable, by the way.

      1. Can’t be, he calls verstappen differently and as someone mentioned the top comment is very mild in terms of bias compared to the user you’re quoting.

    6. Anuj: “Good to see LH is looking at ( and talking about ) his performance rather than Red-Bull and MV”

      What you are actually seeing is the reporter making that choice in the questions they ask, and the portions of the answers that they choose to report.

      1. I didn’t know Hamilton had no agency over his answers and was obliged to deliver a response within the tone previously set by journos.

    7. Did I misa something or is this article not about Verstappen. You orange fan boys are so stupid with your constant hate.

  2. Has Lewis’ driving career peaked? Are super-talented youngsters like Russell better than him now? I just can’t believe it – look how brilliantly Fernando is driving – but this year is definitely odd for HAM.

    What do you think? A glitch in results due to the querks of the car vs. driving styles? Or a changing of the guard?

    1. Hamilton has been the standout performer for Mercedes this season, at least until the summer break. Your conclusion might be a bit hasty

      1. Hamilton has been the standout performer for Mercedes this season,

        On average better.
        I do get the feeling that Russell is just using what the car will do when they set it up, while Hamilton is pushing and trying to squeeze more out of it, and then, like at Singapore, regretting the change.
        I believe Merc refer to the car as Diva 2.0 ??

        1. That’s essentially what George said: he gave up trying to drive the car faster than it could and his times improved. I get the impression Hamilton has checked out of this season already. The danger with that is placing too much optimism already in next year being different.

    2. The short answer is no.

    3. I think Lewis is somehow not fully commited unless the car is championship material. But still, there were only few weekends where Russell looked genuinely quicker on raceday, from my memory at least. I think it’s a similar story with Leclerc. If they don’t put their heart into it, disciplined workers such as Russell and Sainz can outscore them.

    4. @shimks Not impossible but doubtful, more likely what @d0senbrot is saying. Hamilton had been outperforming Russell after the Mercedes dropped the super slim side pods and altered the nose. But his complaint at the start of the year probably still stands: the driver is positioned too far forward, ‘over the wheels’ as he put it, and he’s just not getting the same dynamic feedback to feel the car’s adherence and balance. I think that explains why he’s said that it’s the most difficult car he’s ever driven to ‘understand’. The big question for me is what he does if the 2024 car is basically the same level. I’m not sure how much longer he can convince himself that staying in F1 is worth it. Like he says, he put up with the previous years of Red Bull dominance when he was at McLaren. But that’s different to dealing with the same situation towards the other end of his career. Maybe Alonso’s personality type (with apparently little self-doubt) can deal with that situation better.

    5. Alright, chill

      The man is leading Mr Saturday on qualifying 20-17 and is hand over fist, the better driver on Sunday.
      Russell is good, but he’s crashed himself out of points twice now as Mercedes driver. Thrice if you count his stint at Williams.

    6. Best non RBR driver in the championship? Seems like your judgement is biased a bit…

  3. Should Lewis focus more on having a better quali?

    Yes, everyone has for improvement. Surely, he knows something, about Russel, that we don’t get to see.

    But, I think Russell sets his car more for quali and Ham for the race. This season We have been able to see that a car that is good in quali (Ferrari mainly) is not as good on race pace (RBR and Mercs)

    1. That’s my take too. I think 2013 highlighted to Hamilton just how important race pace is. Since then there’s been many weekends where he’s been out qualified but has come back to beat his teammate on race day.

      The Rosberg and Bottas days stand out more, but he’s had a few solid pace advantages against Russell in the races too.

      I think last weekend highlighted this perfectly. It’s no coincidence that Hamilton had the race pace advantage at the end.

      It’s a wise approach. Points are given on Sunday. I’d rather start 5th in a better race car than on pole and drop back.

      1. With Rosberg and especially Bottas he always had enough one lap pace advantage to sacrifice some of that quali pace for race performance and still be faster than them in quali most of the time (and usually therefore get pole). My impression is that any pace advantage to Russell is slighter and so favouring race pace exposes him more to losing out in quali. Difficult to tell with the car so variable though.

    2. Doggy, I would be interested to know how the modern car can be set up to favor either quali or the race. The only things I can think of are

      1) the low fuel of quali changes the weight of the car considerably so maybe the balance of the car can be set to favor high fuel loads or low. But that would also suggest a car which is good for quali should also be good towards the end of the race, and vice versa.

      2) the downforce etc could mean a car is gaining extra speed by being very hard on its tyres in general, or on one corner in particular, which doesn’t matter much in quali, but is a disadvantage if the car runs out of tyres too soon in the race. That would suggest to me that a car which is goodd in quali would also be good in the early laps at the start of the race and after tyre changes.

      Of those two, I’d think the second is the more likely reason for a car to have good quali pace vs poorer race pace, but those are just guesses. Can anyone with knowledge of these things clarify?

      1. AlanD, great comment you posted here.

        I’d like to see comments from experts in the matter as well.

        But I can think out of top of my head (some similar to the one you mentioned) :

        * front and rear wing setup
        * suspension setup
        * car height
        * cpu settings that governs traction, down and up shift
        * Brake balance

  4. I’ve read somewhere that the clampdown on flex parts would hit Mercedes’ rear wing. Maybe a flexy rear wing was what helped Hamilton overcome his rear end instability that seemed to impair his confidence on corner entry (something Russell seemed to cope in a much better way). Since Merc fixed its rear end on corner entry, Hamilton got the upper hand again.
    Don’t know if there’s anything to it, but still…

    1. That’s a good observation Dantera. I don’t know if there is anything in it, but if there is, an additional factor could be that LH was used to a solid sticky Mercedes, so a shaky rear wing feels like something is badly wrong, whereas GR was used to a Williams so the rear end of the Merc might have felt like a massive improvement compared to what he was driving.

  5. GoAT … LOL, not even in his own time.

    1. Taking a free practice result as gospel is not very wise! In fact, not even qualifying is too important this year, points are given on sunday, and as red bull showed many times this year and hamilton did in singapore, it’s better to be fast in the race than in quali most of the times.

  6. Its pretty obvious Lewis knows what he needs to win on a Sunday and Russell is trying to set a good time. And this attitude is why hes +70 points over Russell and Russell will be lucky to finish as high as 7th by the end of the season.

    1. Yes, russell is chasing the single result, you see how he wanted to try stuff to win at singapore, and hamilton is racing as if he were fighting for the championship, that’s why he’s 3rd. Alonso did like that too, maximising points, and that’s why he only lost 3rd in the championship now despite aston martin having a few off pace weekends.

      1. It will be interesting to see if Alonso can claw his way back up to 3rd, me thinks Mercedes are going to drop like a stone if McLaren and Ferrari keep charging at this rate.

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