Lewis Hamilton sets worryingly low Monza benchmark after Friday struggles

Jamie Woodhouse
Lewis Hamilton driving the Mercedes W14. Italy, September 2023.

Both Lewis Hamilton and George Russell are just targeting making Q3 at Monza after a challenging FP2 for Mercedes.

Only Russell was able to break Mercedes into the top 10 in Friday’s second practice session ahead of the Italian Grand Prix, with Hamilton forced to settle for P17.

Hamilton did not run the soft tyre in that session, due to how poor the balance in the W14 was, on a weekend where the Alternate Tyre Allocation is in use, reducing the sets of slick tyres available for each driver from 13 to 11, while hard tyres are mandatory for Q1, mediums for Q2 and softs used in Q3.

Additional reporting by Thomas Maher

Just getting into Q3 will be nice for Lewis Hamilton

Speaking to media including PlanetF1.com after the Friday running, Hamilton said the familiar trait had returned for Mercedes, where the W14 went from feeling in a good place in the opening session, to declining come FP2.

“Pretty similar Friday to most Fridays,” he said. “It started off really well in FP1, was genuinely quite happy with the car and then they made changes.

“And usually when you got into FP2, can’t figure out why, but the car seems to be more of a challenge in FP2. I’m sure it’s something we can rectify overnight.

“We’ve got 1000 things we can change. So it’s just knowing which ones those are and what the actual real issues are, whether it’s mechanical, whether it’s tyre temps, aero balance, we’re going to figure that out tonight.

“I didn’t run my soft tyre just because the balance wasn’t so good. So I just thought I would save it for tomorrow.

“所以我明天有两个新的软,所以别人会have one new and used, and the focus will be to see what we can get out of the tyre, whether we prepare the tyre properly and if we can extract the full performance from it, and just try dialling in the balance.”

If all that goes well, then Hamilton is keeping his fingers crossed that the performance from FP1 can be rediscovered, where Mercedes were “easily in Q3” as Russell finished P5 and Hamilton P8.

But, at this stage Hamilton will take simply making the cut for that pole position shootout.

“Getting into Q3 will be nice and we’ll see where it goes from there,” said Hamilton.

“With our current pace, I don’t know how easy it will be to get into Q3, that’s what we’ll be working on overnight and hopefully…I mean this morning, we were easily into Q3, so I’m just going to keep my fingers crossed and hope to get there.”

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George Russell anticipates “tight battle” to make Q3

Missing out on running the softs so far may not be the worst thing for Hamilton, as team-mate Russell said that was the compound which he is yet to find the “sweet spot” for.

“Our medium and the hard, we did in FP1 and FP2, we looked pretty competitive, when we put a soft on it wasn’t quite as fast as we’d hoped, which generally comes down to the tyre not getting the sweet spot,” he told media including PlanetF1.com.

“I think the race is going to be challenging for everybody because when you’re on the skinny rear wings, there’s not much of a slipstream effect. So there might be a bit more emphasis on qualifying than usual.”

That being said, Russell also has set just making it to Q3 as his aim, noting how congested the pack is as he tipped McLaren, Aston Martin, Ferrari and Williams all to pose a threat on Saturday.

“I think it’s really close, as always at the moment between McLaren, Aston [Martin], Ferrari and even Williams getting in the mix, especially on Saturday,” he explained.

“So we’re going to have to really nail it to even get to Q3, it’s going to be a tight battle.

“But as I said, I think we look more competitive on the hard and medium than we do on the soft, so we need to try and find something to get us up the order.

“But if you nail it, you could be second on the grid, if you just don’t quite nail it you could be down in P8, P10 region.”

The Italian GP marks the second time that this ATA format has been in use, an effort for Formula 1 to reduce its carbon footprint with less Pirelli tyres put into use.

And while Russell feels tweaks are still needed to the concept, it is one which actually he quite likes.

“I quite like it to be honest,” he said. “I think it makes Friday a little bit more challenging.

“But I think the qualifying format in isolation is good. Just Friday, you don’t get the chance to do that many laps on different sets of tyres.

“So I think the allocation has got potential, I don’t think it’s quite there yet with this overall format, but I’m definitely not against it.”

Mercedes hold P2 in theConstructors’ Championshipas F1 2023 reaches Monza, 40 points ahead of Aston Martin a position behind.

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