Hamilton bemoans “horrendous” balance in Sprint race, Russell believes they can beat Ferrari

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The first Sprint Race of 2023 brought mixed emotions to Mercedes. Lewis Hamilton had been left with a rather positive feeling after the earlier Sprint Shootout, which allowed him to start the race in P6.

However, during the 17 laps ran he lost track position to Fernando Alonso, coming in P7 to score two points.

The seven times world champion wasn’t pleased with his car’s performance, as he mentioned that he had suffered from big problems with balance in the afternoon session in Azerbaijan:

“I think ultimately, just the car, I’m continuing to struggle with the car.

“The balance was pretty horrendous in the race, it was much better in qualifying.

“We have some good learnings from the session so hopefully tomorrow I can make some adjustments and be in a slightly better place,” he added, feeling more positive for the longer race taking place tomorrow.

Hamilton was also positively impressed by the new Sprint format, going as far as to say that even more racing could have been fitted into the schedule: “I genuinely liked it more. I think that there’s a lot of time wasted during the weekends. I think that we can do it on a shorter amount of days.

“I think today we could have done at least three sessions.”

Asked on the position lost at the restart, the Mercedes driver didn’t appear to be too upset about it:

It’s just racing, I lost out. It’s never great to go backwards but sometimes it happens,” Hamilton concluded nonchalantly.

His teammate George Russell had qualified for the Sprint Race in P4, made a brief appearance in P3 by passing Max Verstappen, but eventually missed out on the podium finish.

The British driver was pleased with his pace, which allowed him to finish in P4 scoring four points after a difficult Friday qualifying, even if he didn’t manage to hold on his provisional result:

“The feeling within the car was good. We just don’t have enough speed. Max passed me like I was stood still. We know how fast their car is.

“To our calculations, we can take the rear wing off and they will still be faster than us down the straight.

“We honestly don’t know how they are doing it. They probably have a trick up there sleeves. So, kudos to them. We have a lot of work to do.”

To fight with the championship leaders right now seems like an unrealistic goal for the Mercedes driver, who went on to talk about his actual goals for tomorrow’s race:

“We know where our fight is, you know, Charles was struggling towards the end, we think we probably have better race pace than the Ferraris.”

At first Russell didn’t remember about the issues he had encountered during yesterday’s qualifying session, which had left him looking on as a spectator for Q3, and talked as if this morning’s result was decisive for the actual race grid as well:

“I’ll do my best to fight with Charles and keep Carlos…. Obviously I’m starting from completely different position, I actually forgot about that.”

The 2022 Brazilian GP winner was still hopeful for the full length race tomorrow, as drama is always ensured in Baku:

“But it is a long race, anything can happen, you can get fortunate with the safety cars. We’ll see,” he concluded, confident in his driving abilities.

Mercedes’s Team Principal Toto Wolff was happy by the overall performance shown by Russell, in spite of the lack of silverware brought to the team, as he told Sky Sport:

“P4 was a very solid result for the performance the car has this weekend. George’s last third of the race was very strong. He benefitted from clean air but, as you can see from Lewis, when you are stuck in traffic, the tyres tend to give up.”

Asked on the reason of Hamilton’s slower pace that had left him open to Alonso and Sainz’s moves, he replied already focused on the bigger points to score in the race:

“He was just stuck there in P7, and we need to analyse that so it can be better tomorrow.”

Photo credit: Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team