Seven-times world champion Lewis Hamilton put a positive spin on his Mercedes team’s underwhelming display in Saturday’s qualifying for the season-opening Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix.
The Briton will start Sunday’s race from the third row of the grid in fifth after lapping 0.6 seconds slower than Ferrari pole-sitter Charles Leclerc.
Reigning champion Max Verstappen will start on the front row alongside Leclerc in second, with Ferrari and Red Bull looking like the early favourites.
“I generally feel positive about today,” Hamilton, who has won in Bahrain for the last three years in succession, told reporters after qualifying.
“We definitely didn’t expect to be fifth so I’m happy to be in there. The guys ahead, they are a lot quicker.
“But I do know there’s potential and we’ve just got to work very, very fast and be precise over these next weeks to try and close that gap as soon as we can,” added the 37-year-old.
Team mate George Russell will line up ninth for his first race as a full-time Mercedes driver. The Briton was instructed to push his tyres hard on his warm-up lap, which left him struggling for grip on his qualifying flier.
“I wanted to try something different,” said Russell.
“Unfortunately with that one and only lap in (the final phase of qualifying), I just got to turn one and had absolutely no grip.
“But we’re here to try stuff at the moment because we’re not where we want to be.”
Formula One has undergone its most radical rules overhaul in decades this season with cars drastically redesigned in a bid to improve the racing spectacle.
But Mercedes, gunning for a ninth straight constructors’ title, have struggled to unlock the speed from their revised car.
They have suffered more than most teams from “porpoising”, where cars bounce up and down as aerodynamic downforce is gained then lost, in a movement that has been likened to that of a porpoise through water.
Team boss Toto Wolff said Mercedes were already in the process of dialling out the problems.
“It’s all physics. It’s not mystics,” said the Austrian.
“We know where we lose, and now the catch-up game has started.”