The deflated Mercedes pair of Lewis Hamilton and George Russell ended up seventh and eighth fastest respectively in Spa qualifying, forcing them to reflect on a tough day in the office – with Hamilton calling the gap to pace-setter Verstappen “a kick in the teeth” , as Russell even predicted a win for the Dutchman, despite Verstappen’s P15 starting position after grid penalties.
Hamilton will start the race in fourth – after being promoted up the order due to Verstappen, Charles Leclerc and Esteban Ocon’s engine penalties – but the Briton could not hide his disappointment at the 1.8s gap to Verstappen’s fastest Q3 time, even admitting he would not miss driving the W13 at the end of the year.
“I mean, obviously everyone is working for improvements. And we came here very, very optimistic that we are going to be able to be close [the gap to Red Bull and Ferrari],” Hamilton said. “Half a second, who knows, but to be 1.8s behind is a real kick in the teeth. But it is what it is. It’s a car that we continue to struggle with and I definitely won’t miss it at the end of the year.
READ MORE: Verstappen aims to ‘survive Lap 1’ and take podium as dominant qualifying win turns to P15 on grid
“For me, it’s just about focusing on how we build and design next year’s car. The other two teams ahead of us are in another league, but our car looks so much different to theirs. So, we will do the best we can for the rest of the season.”
When asked about what Mercedes could hope for in the race, Hamilton said: “I don’t know. We can say top five, that would be nice, but the car is not particularly top five speed this weekend, so just keep it on track and see where we come.”
Lewis Hamilton: Gap to leaders ‘a kick in the groin’ but Mercedes will ‘keep fighting’ in Belgian GP
When asked to reflect on his own qualifying, Russell – who will start fifth, having claimed his maiden pole position in Hungary last time out – said: “We’ve gone from pole in the last race, and we are 1.8s off today, and not obviously just to Max but we were six-tenths behind the Alpines. Always when the temperature is cold, we struggle. We saw it in Imola this year, we’ve seen it in many other Fridays, when it’s been a cool Friday, we just can’t seem to get the tires working.
FACTS AND STATS: A best Spa start for Alonso for 15 years, as Verstappen looks to the history books
“So, it’s pretty frustrating. I’m confident we will have a lot more pace tomorrow compared to the Alpines, the McLarens and the Williams as well. But we will still probably be half a second to a second behind Red Bull and Ferrari.”
He continued: “We are Mercedes, P7 and P8 is not where we want to be, and we know that’s not where the car is. We know we probably don’t have the fastest car, or the second fastest car, but we definitely have a car that is capable of more than P8 and P7, so we’ve got work to do.”
Looking ahead to tomorrow’s race, Russell admitted a podium finish is unlikely for the Silver Arrows, as he predicted that Verstappen’s pace this weekend would see the Red Bull driver win the Grand Prix.
READ MORE: Szafnauer ‘very confident’ that Piastri contract ruling will fall on Alpine’s side
“I think Max will probably still win the race,” said Russell. “I don’t know where he is going to be starting but with the pace he has got he will probably still win the race. And Charles [Leclerc] as well, he will probably still come through.
“So, I think it is unlikely that we will be on the podium tomorrow in all honesty, because we’ve still got Carlos [Sainz] and Checo [Perez] there and Max is going to slice through the field pretty quickly. So, I don’t know. We will need to look overnight, try and understand it. Qualifying is out of the way, which has been our weak point, and we’ll try and be faster tomorrow.”