Sir Lewis Hamilton was left perplexed after qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix, where he found himself in the top 10 but 1.8 seconds behind the fastest time set.
Incredibly, Hamilton was actually the top Mercedes F1 driver in qualifying, with George Russell 2.1 seconds adrift of Max Verstappen’s dominant time on Saturday.
Team principal Toto Wolff labelled the session as the “worst” he’s experienced in his 10 years at the Silver Arrows, highlighting the struggles Mercedes are continuing to face.
The race didn’t go any better for the seven-time World Champion, after he suffered his first DNF of the season.
After an excellent start to the race, Hamilton was clipped by Fernando Alonso at Les Combes on the opening lap, launching the British driver into the air.
Hamilton’s W13 slammed back down onto the circuit, which must have certainly cracked the floor of his car.
The Brit was forced to retire from the race, bringing an early end to a dismal weekend.
After qualifying, Hamilton revealed that he “tried everything” across the weekend to make the W13 work, after the car’s performance didn’t make any “sense”.
“It doesn’t make sense,” said Hamilton after qualifying.
“I tried everything. I put everything on, I put everything off, changed wings, changed set-up. I’ve done everything this weekend, tried a lot of things. And it’s surprising to see us – maybe they’ve moved forwards, I don’t know if they’ve got upgrades or not, but it’s difficult.”
The Brit couldn’t believe how far off himself and Russell were from the fastest time, especially given that Russell claimed pole at the previous round of the championship in Hungary.
“I never thought we would be two seconds off,” he admitted.
“It’s way, way worse than I thought.”
The 37-year-old was visibly down after qualifying and even more so on his lonely walk back to the garage after retiring from the race.
Despite all the “hurt”, Hamilton is trying to refrain from using the word ‘disappointment’, after all the hard work being done back at Brackley.
“I don’t want to use the word ‘disappointment’ because you’ve got to remember there’s 2,000 people back at the factory who are working so hard to get it right,” he said.
“Of course I wish that we’d got it right and we brought upgrades that brought us forward. I wish we were fighting at the front but it isn’t the way it is.
“It hurts, believe me, it hurts. But at this point you’ve just got to laugh it off and say ‘I’m not fighting for a championship’. If I get too serious and too low, I’ve got a responsibility to try and keep morale high. You’ve got to keep pushing, You can’t be discouraged. Yes, it sucks and it’s slow.”
With any hope of an eighth World Championship or a ninth consecutive Constructors’ Championship absolutely over, Hamilton wants the Silver Arrows to change their focus to next year’s car.
“We can’t change anything overnight so all we can do is just work with what we have,” he said.
“We don’t know how fast or slow we’re going to be tomorrow. It’ll be a surprise if we’re closer than we think, that’s the biggest gap we’ve ever had in qualifying.
“What we will do is talk about meetings we’re going to have next week and talk about the steps, where we want to be with next year’s car.
“What are the problems here, what we can take from our understanding of the data we have here and apply it to make sure the next car is not like this one at all. That’s what we’re working on, that’s what I’m trying to work on.”