Lewis Hamilton says second on the grid for the Bahrain Grand Prix is a good result for Mercedes because his team expected the gap to Red Bull to be twice as big.
Max Verstappen ended Mercedes’ run of taking pole position for every season opener in the hybrid era, securing the fourth pole of his career by 0.4s. It was a familiar top three just in a different order as Hamilton ended up second and Valtteri Bottas third, but after what had been seen in testing Hamilton says the Red Bull advantage is not as big as he’d feared.
“Definitely closer than we expected,” Hamilton said. “I think this is a really good step forward for us coming into this weekend. I think we thought it would be double the gap that you see today and so that’s down to some really fantastic work from the men and woman back at the factory. And the people here, like Ashley on my car for example, who is doing a fantastic job. Collectively, we are just pulling together.
“Of course we want to be first but we knew that it was going to be a challenge. We knew from day one on track that the Red Bull was faster than us and we know we had a bit of an uphill battle to climb, so I’m just proud of everyone’s efforts.
“I look upon each year and look at what can be improved and really just try to show my appreciation for the team. There’s a lot of guys so I can’t name every single one of them at the end of the day but just want them to know how much I appreciate them.”
While optimistic about the gap in qualifying, Hamilton still expects Verstappen to have too much in hand over a race distance.
“I think they’ve got the pace and with the gap they had today, usually they carry that into the race. They are very strong in the race conditions. I’d like to think that we can close that up a bit but I think they have still got at least two tenths in hand.
“That’s just from the information I’ve been given and from what I can see. Our balance wasn’t really that spectacular. It wasn’t the worst run but when you worked things out it looks like there’s a couple of tenths’ difference between us. It definitely didn’t look terrible and better than what I thought it was going to be in testing.”
After Toto Wolff’s comments that the regulation changes this year were designed to mix-up the competitive order, Hamilton agreed that Mercedes has been targeted.
“I mean, it’s no secret that the changes, of course they’ve been done to peg us back. We had the changes last season to our engine to do the same thing. But that’s OK, we love a challenge and we don’t look down on these things. We just work hard to do the best we can, and that’s what we’ll do.”