Hamilton: Gap to Ferrari will be tough to close
Third on the timesheets may not sound bad, but when your arch rivals are seven-tenths of a second up the road, things suddenly aren’t looking quite so rosy. And that’s the situation world champion Lewis Hamilton finds himself in after Friday’s running in Baku.
After FP1 was effectively written-off by compatriot George Russell’s drain cover mishap, Hamilton completed a solid, trouble-free programme for Mercedes in second practice, but was left somewhat mystified by the considerable gap to the Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel in front.
“It's been a bit of an odd day, but I still enjoyed it,” said the Briton. “FP2 went really well, I was feeling good out there and I was more comfortable in the car than I was last year.
“However, the Ferraris are clearly very quick and it looks like they're quite a bit ahead of us, so we'll need to investigate to see where we are losing time compared to them. It's unlikely that we will find seven-tenths over night, but we'll do everything we can to push the car in the right direction.”
Hamilton and Mercedes have, of course, been here before. At every round of 2019 so far, Ferrari have been generally deemed to have the quicker car – yet every time the Silver Arrows have ended up finishing one-two on the Sunday.
“Our long-run pace looked a little bit stronger than our short-run pace, so we'll need to try and find out why,” continued Hamilton. “It should be a good fight [for pole] tomorrow; I'm always down for a fight and I think that's what the fans want to see, so I'm looking forward to tomorrow.”
Team mate Valtteri Bottas finished Friday’s running fourth, a little over two-tenths behind Hamilton. Unlike his colleague, the Finn at least had the consolation of having obvious areas for potential improvement.
“I'm not really pleased with the laps I did, but it's always a bit tricky to find the rhythm in Baku and it takes a bit of time,” he commented. “It wasn't easy to get the medium compound [tyre] up to the right temperatures today, but corner speeds will increase due to track evolution, so we should be able to get a bit more energy into the tyres tomorrow.”
Mercedes’ technical chief James Allison was also upbeat that the team could turn things around for qualifying, adding: “So we have a bit of work to do overnight to tidy up the handling to give the drivers the confidence to really smash it around the lap and then hopefully we'll have a good weekend.”