Lewis Hamilton says Mercedes has to capitalize on Max Verstappen’s back-of-the-grid start at the Russian Grand Prix.
In response to Mercedes’ pace and Saturday’s weather forecast, Verstappen changed his power unit, meaning his three-place grid penalty from Monza becomes obsolete as he will start on Sunday from the back of the grid. Hamilton — who was second fastest in both Friday sessions behind teammate Valtteri Bottas — says the door is open for Mercedes to make big gains in terms of points.
“It doesn’t change anything for us — we just have to do our thing and focus on moving forward,” Hamilton said. “It’s a tough year for everyone with reliability, so it’s definitely a shame for him, but we have to try and capitalize on that naturally and try to get a maximum result. A one-two would be spectacular for us.”
Hamilton was just 0.044s behind Bottas in FP2 and says different setup directions have given both drivers plenty to learn from ahead of an expected wet Saturday.
“It seems like we started off on the right foot,” Hamilton said. “As we’re always trying to progress, the first run in the first session was the best — we’ve been adjusting since, and it’s not been as good as that one, as you’re starting to push more and more I guess.
“Generally a good session pace-wise. We’ve got some work to do, probably, on our long run and then tomorrow it’s going to be raining a lot, we heard, so it will be interesting to see what we do in terms of setup for that, knowing potentially Sunday is dry.
“If you look at the list of tracks, there are some that (Bottas) is super exceptional, that are generally Valtteri circuits, and some that are vice a versa. It’s an OK track for me. It’s not my best, it’s not my worst. But there are definitely things I can pinpoint from the data. It’s more with setup mostly, I would say, and probably a little bit in the driving, so I’ll work on it tonight.”
Mercedes has never been beaten in Sochi and looks heavily favored to continue that run after Bottas set the pace in both sessions on Friday. Despite having the upper hand the Finn says he can still make further gains.
“It could always go better, but if you look at the lap times and based on the feelings, it was a good day,” Bottas said. “From the first run I had good confidence with the car — the balance was actually very good, so all we had to do were minor adjustments during the day. I could really just focus on the driving and finding small gains here and there. But I’d say that both in the short and the long runs I was pretty comfortable.
“There is more to come, but I think tomorrow is going to be wet, so it’s going to be a completely different day. At least we had in FP1 some decent long runs, and the main thing is that the car feels good in the long runs which is important for Sunday, when it could be dry. I think tomorrow is going to be a different kind of day.”