After finding themselves far off the pace on Friday, Lewis Hamilton rates third place in qualifying for the Mexican Grand Prix as a great day for Mercedes.
Mercedes and Ferrari both struggled relative to Red Bull during Friday practice, with Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo enjoying an advantage of over a second and Renault jumping up as the second-fastest team. In qualifying, Red Bull locked out the front row as Ricciardo pipped his teammate, but Hamilton was just over 0.1s adrift in third and delighted with his team’s recovery.
“This is a great day for us,” Hamilton said. “Considering how bad yesterday was for us, and so I really want to say a big thank you to everyone who’s back at the factory who’ve been working hard overnight and also the guys here, to rectify the issues we’ve had and get the car back into a sweeter spot.
“Congratulations to Daniel. These guys were just too quick. They were in a league of their own in general up until qualifying and even in qualifying. If you look at his middle sector, there was no way I could get that. To be as close as I am, I’m really quite happy with that, and to be on third, it’s not a bad start.”
Despite his post-qualifying optimism, Hamilton expects the Red Bulls to be too fast to compete with in race trim. But he will not take it easy when racing into the first corner even though a top-seven finish will win him the drivers’ championship.
“I think these guys [Red Bull] do generally have the better pace. On tracks like this, for whatever reason, I guess the Renault engine’s working really well but more so the higher downforce level that they usually are able to achieve is definitely helping for sure.
“But I guess the race pace was not so bad yesterday but those guys again were in their own league in that section. We have improved the car so I’m hoping tomorrow we can still give it a fight and if we’re able to gain any ground at the beginning, then game on!
“Everyone’s going to be barreling into Turn 1 to gain, so it’s a very, very fine line. If you go easy, you can get hit. If you go too aggressive, you can hit or still get hit. You’ve got to race it like normal and go in for the win. That’s what I’m going to be doing. I mean, that’s what we’re here to do, is to race.”