Lewis Hamilton says Mercedes struggled more in qualifying for the Singapore Grand Prix than it had on Friday, even if he was surprised by Ferrari’s gains.
The championship leader set the pace in FP2 on Friday and said he felt more comfortable with his car than he had for a while in the high-downforce configuration needed in Singapore. That setup was expected to hurt Ferrari but Charles Leclerc took a surprise third pole position in a row, with Hamilton saying he felt Mercedes took a step backwards compared to practice.
“The day’s not been that great,” Hamilton said. “Yesterday was a much smoother day for me, today just a little bit harder. I feel our performance was lost a little bit today, or everyone else generally just improved.
“Q3, the first lap was so-so, didn’t feel so good, we were a second away and it looked like quite a leap to catch them up. But I just managed to pull back half a second in that last run, had a clean run, but still two-tenths down in that first sector which is obviously where it was lost.”
Hamilton’s final lap allowed him to join Leclerc on the front row as he beat Sebastian Vettel by 0.029s, and he admits he was expecting to be fighting with a different team in Singapore.
“We obviously came into the weekend knowing that we’d have a fight with the Red Bulls. It was just knowing how the Ferraris have been in other places with high downforce and not been so strong, Budapest for example, then all of a sudden they’ve brought an upgrade here and it seems to have worked.
“Of course we were not expecting to have such a strong performance from them and have that deficit to them, but they did a great job. I’m grateful that I was able to split them — only just — but we were definitely lacking pace today. Definitely a struggle out there to battle with them and be out there. But I liked how close it was between us all. Hopefully that puts us in good stead for more good fights.”
With Ferrari struggling to match Mercedes and Red Bull in Hungary — a high-downforce circuit before the summer break — Hamilton believes the lack of a Mercedes upgrade also played a part in the turnaround.
“I don’t know where they picked up their pace — for a street circuit like this, earlier on in the year they weren’t as close. They’ve obviously done a great job. I don’t really know where we’re losing it; obviously the first sector is a bit of a loss to us. Some part of it is straight-line, but they can match us in the middle and last sector.
“I think just overall clearly a big step by them. We’ll just keep pushing. We’ve not had an upgrade for a while. I think when that comes it’ll help us a little bit.”