Lewis Hamilton says he’ll be keeping his engineers on their toes overnight in search for a solution to his Mercedes car’s lack of pace during practice for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
Hamilton was led by teammate Valtteri Bottas in fourth and fifth at the end of second practice on Friday, but the pair set times more than seven-tenths of a second slower than Daniel Ricciardo’s headline lap.
It was an anticlimactic ending to a topsy-turvy day for Mercedes. Bottas led the way after free practice one with an almost one-second gap over Hamilton, but neither driver was able to improve as much as their Red Bull Racing and Ferrari rivals in the evening session.
“Overall we weren’t quick enough today,” Hamilton lamented. “Both Red Bull and Ferrari seem to be ahead of us at the moment, so we’ve got some work to do.
“I’m going to be knocking on the doors of all the engineers overnight so that we can hopefully make the right changes.”
Bottas conceded the Mercedes car – infamously branded a ‘diva’ by team boss Toto Wolff last season – had become difficult to drive over the course of the day as temperatures cooled with the setting sun.
“It’s not an easy car to drive at the moment; we have some work to do with the balance,” he said. “It was quite difficult to get a lap together, even my best lap today was a bit a messy.
“FP1 was better than FP2 because I think we were missing a bit of pace in the second session compared to Ferrari and Red Bull. We have plenty of things to look at tonight so that we make the right changes for tomorrow and Sunday.
“But if we get everything right, the car is quick.”
A developing issue on the Baku City Circuit is wind. The Azeri capital is known as the “city of winds” but unusually strong gusts are forecast on Saturday and Sunday, causing concern for drivers given the street circuit, used only once a year, is already low on grip.
Making matters worse is that this year’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix is being run two months earlier than it had been for the last two years, when the weather was warmer. The combination of cool track conditions, low grip and high winds could lead to problems come race day.
“The fact that we’re here in Baku earlier than in previous years definitely affects the tires, but the biggest concern is the wind,” Bottas said. “It’s supposed to be very windy tomorrow and on Sunday, which makes a lot of a difference on a street circuit.”