Hamilton blames set-up experiment for qualifying disaster

© XPB 

Saturday proved be a day of extremes for Lewis Hamilton, who produced his best result of the season so far by coming second in the Shanghai Sprint race but then failed to make the first cut in qualifying for the Chinese GP.

Hamilton explained later than new rules allowing teams to make set-up changes t their cars between the end of the Sprint race and the start of qualifying for Sunday's main event had backfired on Mercedes.

Previously cars were under parc ferme conditions for the whole weekend after Friday practice. That's been relaxed for 2024, allowing Mercedes to make "massive changes" to Hamilton's setup and that of his team mate George Russell.

“This morning, George and I had very similar cars but then this afternoon we’re trying to experiment still with the car,” Hamilton explained to the media in the paddock at Shanghai International Circuit.

"We knew qualifying would be much more tough this afternoon," he said. "I made some sizeable set-up changes after the Sprint to try and improve the car in the slow speed turns

“I went one way - a wrong way - and he went the other way, just to see if we can find anything," he continued. “That’s what we need to do at the moment, but yeah - it didn’t work.

“It wasn’t too bad in some places, but I struggled I couldn’t get it to stop in [turn] 14," he added. "That's where I locked up on my final lap. If I hadn't had that, I would have made it through to Q2.

"So it is what it is, he sighed. "When I was making the set-up changes I was like, 'It can’t get any worse, surely?' - and it did!"

"Ultimately we knew that we had outperformed where the true pace of our car was in the Sprint," conceded Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff.

"We therefore decided to make some big set-up changes between the Sprint and Qualifying to try and improve the car's low-speed performance. The drivers chose to go in pretty different directions to support our learning process.

"But it clearly didn't work for us today on a single lap," he admitted. "Lewis would have progressed comfortably out of Q1 without a lock-up in turn 14 that cost him more than half-a-second."

As a result of the disastrous qualifying session, Hamilton will line-up on tomorrow's grid in 18th position leaving him with a mountain to climb just to get back into the points .

"I'll be giving it my best shot tomorrow. We can still have some fun even if we are starting from P18.

“[But] 18th is pretty bad," he admitted to Sky Sports F1 before adding "S**t happens", for which the broadcaster had to apologise for the use of non-family friendly language.

George Russell (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 W15. 20.04.2024. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 5, Chinese Grand Prix, Shanghai, China, Sprint and Qualifying Day. - www.xpbimages.com, EMail: requests@xpbimages.com © Copyright: Batchelor / XPB Images

Russell was more upbeat after making it through to the final round of qualifying. He will be starting tomorrow's race from eighth place.

"Qualifying was also tricky," he said. My first lap in Q2 was looking very strong but the red flag forced us to abort. We had to use another set of new tyres to progress to Q3.

"Without that we would have had two new sets for the final part of Qualifying," he pointed out. "It could have been a different outcome, but who knows? Small differences can have a major impact.

"We are in that fight between P3 and P8, and unfortunately we've found ourselves at the back end of that battle in the last few races in qualifying.

"It's hard to predict what will happen tomorrow. It's all to play for with those cars around us, so hopefully we have the pace to move forward.

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