Lewis Hamilton admits he’s staggered by how far Mercedes are nonetheless behind the Red Bulls after Max Verstappen blew away the sector to take pole place on the Japanese Grand Prix.
Verstappen hit again in fashion after seeing his document 10-race successful run and Red Bull’s unbeaten season resulted in Singapore per week in the past by ending an enormous 0.581 seconds away from McLaren’s Oscar Piastri.
Lando Norris was third within the second McLaren forward of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Verstappen’s team-mate Sergio Perez.
But Mercedes struggled once more, with Hamilton qualifying seventh and George Russell eighth – the seven-time world champion over a second adrift of Verstappen’s pole lap.
The Dutchman and Red Bull have dominated the game over the past two seasons and Hamilton admits the hole that also exists between the 2 groups is a serious concern.
“We as a team really need to when we go back and do the debrief – I hope the team already realise – but a second gap is huge. And it is real,” Hamilton mentioned.
“To be two years in and still be a second down to the Red Bulls is not a good showing and we need to make sure we work hard over the winter to get back at least half that gap before next year.
“We have a very peaky car. It is like trying to balance a knife on its tip.
“It is never perfectly balanced, it is one way or the other. You try and get it as close as you can to the middle but it is very hard to do each weekend.”
Verstappen topped each follow session however Norris and Piastri had closed the hole in P3 to trace at a struggle for pole at Suzuka.
But it by no means materialised due to Verstappen’s unimaginable tempo on new tyres within the closing session.
McLaren impressed once more – particularly Piastri who had by no means even been to Japan earlier than this week.
“It’s been a very good day for us. A P2 and a P3 – a great job by Oscar today and as usual, by Max – but a good day,” Norris mentioned.
“I was pretty happy with my laps. It’s a tricky circuit; not easy to put everything together but it’s so quick around here and the smallest mistake can take a big amount of lap time.
“I’m happy. It’s been a good day and good positions for tomorrow.”
Mercedes are unlikely to be within the struggle with Red Bull or McLaren however are set for a scrap with Ferrari as they tussle over second place within the Constructors’ Championship – which Red Bull are virtually sure to clinch on Sunday.
Leclerc delivered a robust lap for the Scuderia to line up on the second row – though he does face an investigation for exceeding the utmost lap time – whereas Singapore-winner Carlos Sainz begins sixth.
“I hope we can have a good battle with Ferrari tomorrow,” Hamilton mentioned.
“They had an upgrade this weekend so they are a little bit ahead of us and it is not an easy track to overtake.
“But I am still going to give it everything and hope I can give them a run for their money tomorrow.”
Yuki Tsunoda, who was confirmed to be driving for AlphaTauri subsequent season alongside Daniel Ricciardo, delighted his dwelling followers by qualifying ninth.