Hamilton gives positive assessment after F1 Japanese GP qualifying: “The car has been much nicer to drive this weekend”

Photo credit: Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team
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Lewis Hamilton was quite upbeat after Saturday’s qualifying session in Suzuka, despite only managing seventh, behind the likes of the McLaren duo and Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso, but two places clear of his Mercedes teammate George Russell. 

Mercedes already showed promise in Friday’s practice sessions and this carried over into qualifying, with Hamilton posting the third-fastest time in Q2. Although this didn’t translate to a higher starting position in the end, Hamilton praised the team’s efforts to understand the W15, highlighting that this was the most comfortable he’s felt in the car in a long time. 

“It’s been a night and day different weekend so far, just in terms of how comfortable I felt in the car,” he said.

“I think we did a really good job over this past week, just the analysis everyone’s done at the factory to try and understand how we can get the car in a sweeter spot. The car has been much nicer to drive this weekend.

“And particularly at a track like this, where you need a nice balance, this is the nicest it’s felt over the last three years. I think last year we were over a second off, we were seven tenths today.

“But also this weekend, I’m not trying all these different random things. So I’ve been just much more focused on making sensible changes. And I think it’s worked. I was hoping we would be further ahead.”

Hamilton added that the performance of the car in the twisty first sector was “hugely encouraging.” 

“Sector 1 is the best first sector of any circuit. It’s absolutely incredible when the car is where you want it to be, and I can feel exactly where the car is weak.

“So this is the perfect test track, it exposes always the limitations of a car, and where you needed to improve it.

“So I know when I go and speak to my engineers now where I need to pinpoint what they got to work on. It’s going to take some time.”

This was also the first qualifying session of the year where Hamilton got the better of Russell—although he insisted that it “doesn’t really make any difference” to him as they’re “not fighting for the championship.”

“We’re just trying to get the best out of the car. (…) For me, I’m happier with a clean qualifying session in the car. I’m starting to feel like I can lean on more and that’s a robust thing.”

Hamilton clarified that the car felt good and remained in an optimal working window throughout qualifying, despite some minor problems in Q3.

“The car felt good,” he said. “The last lap I already felt when I went to Turn 1 I had a bit of oversteer on the way in, so I knew already it was not going to be spectacular.

“I was already a tenth down out of Turn 2. I know why that is, but there’s not much more left. I pretty much got everything out of the car. We just need to add performance to it.”

He also reflected on how surprised he was to learn of his half-second gap to Verstappen’s Red Bull in Q3: “Yeah I was. Because the lap felt really good. And I was hopeful.

“I thought the lap was really, really good. I came round and it was half a second down, but it’s to be expected, it’s a Red Bull.”