Lewis Hamilton fears Mercedes may not be able to reduce their performance deficit to Red Bull in time for the start of next season having qualified a second behind them in Japan.Max Verstappen lapped half a second faster than any other driver as he claimed pole position. Hamilton qualified seventh, 1.031 seconds behind the Red Bull driver.
Having been a lowly 14th in practice yesterday, Hamilton was pleased with the progress Mercedes had made overnight, but admitted they were unable to get any closer to Red Bull.
“Yesterday was horrendous but we made some good changes overnight and the car was feeling really good today, so I was much happier with it,” Hamilton told the official F1 website. “Just unfortunately we’re not quick enough.
“We’ve just got to keep working away. We’re a long way away on rear downforce, so that’s why we’re so slow in the first sector. But the laps felt really good.”
Hamilton admitted he has doubts Mercedes will be able to make enough progress to challenge Red Bull next season. “We’re one second away,” he said. “It’s like, crazy.
“To close that gap before next year, at this point to still be a second down on a track like this is definitely worrying for us as a team.”
The majority of Mercedes’ time loss came in the high-speed first sector, which shows where their car’s weakness lies, said Hamilton.
“In qualifying I was giving it everything but that seven-tenths deficit that we have in sector one is all rear end,” he told Sky. “Our car has loads of load on the front and not as much as we need on the rear. And so we’re a long way down on that.
“For me, that’s clearly concept. For me it’s 100% clear that it’s concept and we’ve got to make sure we change that for next year, which hopefully we will.
“There’s a steep gap that we have to close for next year but you’ve seen what the Astons did coming into this year, so they can make big steps. We’ve seen what the McLaren have done this year by going down the Red Bull route they’re now ahead of us here on a track like this.”
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