Motor racing: Struggling Hamilton says he feels no connection with his car

Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton competes during the qualifying session, ahead of the Saudi grand prix. PHOTO: AFP

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia – Lewis Hamilton said he does not “feel connected” with his Mercedes car after an underwhelming performance in qualifying for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on Saturday.

The seven-time world champion qualified eighth while teammate George Russell took fourth, but both drivers will gain a place on the grid on Sunday because Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc faces a 10-place grid penalty.

The race result was not available at press time.

“I just struggled to extract the performance,” said Hamilton, who has complained about the team’s new W14 car this season and whose future has been a subject of speculation this week.

“The car is where it is... I mean, George did a great job, he’s right up there on the second row. So, the car’s obviously got performance.

“I just don’t feel connected to this car. No matter what I do, no matter what I change, I can’t get confidence in it.

“At the moment, it definitely feels like I just couldn’t get any more out of the car.”

He said he struggled particularly with the car feeling unstable on his set-up through the high-speed corners.

“Maybe it will be OK for tomorrow. I wouldn’t hold my breath,” he added.

“I just don’t feel the car underneath me... I don’t really know what I am going to do about that.”

Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff recognised his drivers were having contrasting reactions, with Russell positive about its handling.

“They need a car with a certain behaviour in order to drive fast and Lewis, at no time this car has given him this season any feedback that allowed him to push to the limit,” said the Austrian.

“If you haven’t got that car underneath you...(in) sector one you are never able to push it fast through the corners. This is what we’ve seen. It’s all sector one and George just drives around it and is able to have more confidence in the car.”

Russell admitted that he expected Red Bull’s defending world champion Max Verstappen to have little difficulty in progressing from 15th on the grid, having been eliminated in Q2 when he suffered a driveshaft failure.

His Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez took pole position ahead of Leclerc and Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso.

“Red Bull are just doing an excellent job, the gap to the rest of the field is bigger than we’ve seen in anyone for six, seven, eight years, so it is pretty impressive,” said Russell.

“I think Max is going to come through pretty easily unless there are any incidents.”

Leclerc added: “Red Bull are on another planet. And we are struggling a little bit. So, we need to keep pushing. But that’s what we are doing as a team.”

He also rubbished rumours that him and Hamilton could swop teams as early as next season, telling Sky Italia: “It’s the first time I’ve heard all these voices from outside since I’ve been at Ferrari. Maybe someone wants to destabilise us...

“I’m in red... and I think it’s quite obvious how much I love Ferrari, and how much I want to win with Ferrari.

“There’s not much more to say. For me, it’s pretty clear.” AFP, REUTERS

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