When former Formula 1 driver Juan Pablo Montoya said that Mercedes were coming into the Belgian Grand Prix with a “big upgrade,” excitement was building for a six-way battle this weekend.
Indeed, the Colombian also suggested that the Silver Arrows had out-developed everyone else as they aimed to capitalise on their recent fine form.
The changes to the technical regulations, too, were expected by some to pull Red Bull and Ferrari back towards them, but that was not the case at all.
Both Sir Lewis Hamilton and George Russell struggled for pace during Friday practice in cool conditions, but their practice pace always seems to pale into insignificance compared to their qualifying pace and race pace anyway.
So ahead of qualifying, there was still a sense of optimism, which quickly disappeared.
Both drivers were forced to work hard to make it into Q2, and then Q3 as the Alpines of Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso, as well as the McLaren of Lando Norris, troubled them.
The saving grace for the German side is that Norris and Ocon have engine penalties for the race, along with Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc.
Verstappen took pole position for Red Bull on Saturday, with Ferrari’s Leclerc behind in fourth, while Ocon qualified in fifth behind the Ferraris and Red Bulls.
Norris decided not to set a representative lap in Q3, so he qualified 10th, and will start the race 18th.
Hamilton and Russell qualified seventh and eighth respectively, so they will line up fourth and fifth behind Carlos Sainz, Sergio Perez and Fernando Alonso.
The quickest Mercedes time was an average of around 1.3 seconds off the pace throughout qualifying, which came as a surprise to Hamilton over the radio, and the seven-time champion was understandably disappointed in the media pen.
“Everyone’s working for improvements, we came here very optimistic that we were going to be able to be close – half a second, who knows? [to Red Bull and Ferrari] – and to be 1.8 seconds behind is a real kick in the teeth,” Hamilton told Sky Sports.
“But it is what it is, it’s a car that we continue to struggle with, and I definitely won’t miss it at the end of the year.
“For me, it’s just about focusing on how we build and design next year’s car, the other two teams ahead of us are in another league, and our car looks so much different to theirs.
“So, we’ve got a lot of work to do, we’ll do the best we can with what we have for the rest of the season.”
Russell was also concerned by the lack of pace the W13 seemed to have compared to McLaren and Alpine.
“I think we’re struggling to comprehend how we were on pole in the last race and now we’re 1.8 seconds off today,” he added.
“And not obviously just to Max, but we were six tenths behind the Alpines.
“Always when the temperatures come down, we struggle; we saw it in Imola this year, we’ve seen it in many other Fridays when it’s been a cool Friday.
“We just can’t seem to get the tyres working so it’s pretty frustrating, I’m confident we’ll have a lot more pace tomorrow compared to the Alpines and the McLarens and the Williams as well, but we’ll still be probably half a second to a second behind Red Bull and Ferrari.”
Despite the tricky weekend so far, Mercedes’ starting position in Spa is a good chance to grab their third consecutive double podium finish.