Mercedes boss Toto Wolff concedes that the team is “in the dark” about Lewis Hamilton’s relatively sluggish car performance in Friday practice at the Styrian Grand Prix.
Valtteri Bottas ended the day second-quickest in the other Mercedes at 0.043s behind Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen, while Hamilton was sixth-fastest, 0.688s off the pace, in a car which Wolff described as “all over the place”.
The threat of thunderstorms means that Practice 2 could set the starting grid for Sunday’s race at the Red Bull Ring, a circuit which the field competed on just a week ago.
As such, teams undertook a somewhat different Friday programme, with the Mercedes-AMG Team Principal confirming that Hamilton’s car was somewhere closer to qualifying mode than it normally would be.
“It wasn’t full attack, but it wasn’t half attack either,” Wolff told Austrian network ORF.
“We already added a little bit more. Let’s say, we drove on a performance level that we normally don’t drive on Friday.
“We are a bit in the dark, especially with Lewis’ time. There’s a problem with the car.
“At the moment we don’t know. The car is just all over the place in the slow and medium fast corners.
“But we have data channels for everything, and you have to take your time to look at that.”
When queried on what Mercedes had in reserve for Qualifying, Wolff responded, “Not so much anymore. Compared to last week Verstappen has improved, and especially the Racing Points have really improved.
“Everyone else is slower, just like us. But there is a lot of thinking and data to collect to see where the performance is.”
Hamilton was similarly puzzled as to why he was off the pace.
“That I don’t know, I can’t really say anything,” said the Briton.
“It felt relatively normal, but it was quite far off, so there’s a lot of work that needs to go on in the background to try and figure out why.
“I was feeling good in Practice 1 and the start of P2 felt pretty good, and then it just started to drop off.
“Others out there are quick, and Valtteri’s obviously got good pace. Hopefully tomorrow it will be a bit better.”
Should Qualifying indeed be washed out entirely, Hamilton would start from sixth as it stands, next to where he lined up on the grid last weekend following a penalty.
He was second to Bottas by the end of the first sector on Lap 11 that Sunday, in part due to a failure for Verstappen, but is not keen to start on Row 3 again.
“It will suck if we don’t get to qualify, because it wasn’t great, I’ll be starting further back than even last week, so it will definitely make it challenging,” remarked the world champion.
“I’m trying to do the dry dance, if there’s a dry dance to make sure there’s no frigging rain for Sunday.”
Practice 3 is scheduled for 20:00 AEST tonight, and Qualifying at 23:00.