Mercedes’ hopes of being on the pace of Red Bull and Ferrari at the French Grand Prix are looking fragile after an underwhelming day for the constructors’ champions.
The Silver Arrows ran three drivers on the first day of action at Paul Ricard with the team’s junior driver, Nyck de Vries, standing in for Lewis Hamilton in free practice one. The Dutchman did a steady job, posting the ninth fastest time in the session, 1.5 seconds off the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc, while George Russell was fourth, almost a full second off the pace. It wasn’t much better in the second practice session, with Russell fourth and Hamilton fifth.
Following a string of podium finishes in recent races, it looked like Mercedes were closing the gap to Red Bull and Ferrari after a largely torrid first half of the season. But Hamilton admitted the car’s pace so far has been a disappointment.
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“It wasn’t the best of sessions because I missed the first. I tried to get back up to speed as quickly as possible. It was average I would say,” he said.
“We have a lot of work to do, a lot of ground to cover. The car is not spectacular here. We don’t know why but hopefully overnight we normally make a bit of a step.”
On where the car was struggling, he added: “Everywhere to be honest. I’m going to have to dig deep into the data but it just feels like we’re lacking downforce. We’re a little bit further behind than we anticipated this weekend.”
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Even after the first practice session and before Hamilton got into his machine, team boss Toto Wolff was disappointed by the car’s early showing in the south of France.
“It’s not where we want to be,” he told Sky Sports. “We’re trying lots of parts but we’re just lacking pace at the moment. It’s early days but the performance in FP1 was underwhelming, we didn’t seem to extract enough out of it.”
The Ferrari of Carlos Sainz was fastest in FP2, but the Spaniard’s hopes of victory could be over already as he will be hit with a 10-place grid penalty following a change of engine components.
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