F1

Lewis Hamilton rues inconsistent Mercedes car after poor qualifying in Australia

Hamilton failed to make Q3 in Melbourne as Max Verstappen recorded another pole position in his all-conquering Red Bull.

Lewis Hamilton is not a fan of his Mercedes car (Asanka Brendon Ratnayake/AP)
Lewis Hamilton is not a fan of his Mercedes car Lewis Hamilton is not a fan of his Mercedes car (Asanka Brendon Ratnayake/AP) (Asanka Brendon Ratnayake/AP)

Lewis Hamilton said the inconsistency of his Mercedes “messes with the mind” following his worst qualifying performance in Australia for 14 years.

Hamilton, who boasts a record eight pole positions at Melbourne’s Albert Park, will start Sunday’s 58-lap race from a disappointing 11th after he was eliminated in Q2.

Max Verstappen took pole – his third in as many races – as he bids to complete a record-equalling 10 victories, with Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz joining him on the front row.

Hamilton qualified eighth in Saudi Arabia a fortnight ago, and ninth the week before in Bahrain.

He trails team-mate George Russell, who will line up in seventh on Sunday, 3-0 over one lap this season, and after finishing only seventh and ninth at the opening two rounds, he has scored just eight points to Russell’s 18 so far.

“The inconsistency in the car really messes with the mind,” said Hamilton, who had finished fourth in final practice, less than a tenth off the pace.

“There is a long list of things to fix. Our car is on a knife edge. In the afternoon the wind picks up and the car becomes unstable. But the others can pick their pace up in qualifying and I am not sure why.

“It didn’t feel the same in qualifying from practice even though we had lighter fuel. It is not a great feeling for everyone in the team but we will keep working away.”

Hamilton has not won a race since the penultimate fixture of the 2021 campaign in Saudi Arabia, 57 rounds ago.

Mercedes have adopted a different design philosophy this season, but Hamilton is low on confidence in the last Silver Arrows he will drive before he heads to Ferrari in 2025.

“It is three years in a row where I have had a similar feeling,” continued the seven-time world champion.

“There are spikes like this morning in practice where I think it can be good, and then it disappears.

“If we can make the car more consistent maybe we can be more competitive but there is a lot of work to do and everyone is pushing as hard as they can.”

Hamilton’s Mercedes boss Toto Wolff pulled no punches with his assessment of his team’s performance.

“It’s especially underwhelming because we were within a tenth in final practice,” he said. “The conditions were a little bit different but there is no excuse.

“We have a car that is difficult, and as much as I am annoyed at myself for saying this for a long time, we just need to continue working on it and trying to get better.

“It is not because of a lack of trying that we are where we are, but it’s not good enough.”

At the sharp end of the grid, Verstappen’s third pole in as many races appeared under threat with Ferrari threatening to knock the all-conquering Dutchman off his perch.

Max Verstappen claimed another pole position
Max Verstappen claimed another pole position Max Verstappen claimed another pole position (Scott Barbour/AP)

But Verstappen upped the ante in front of a record Saturday crowd at a sun-cooked Albert Park of just shy of 131,000, to see off Sainz by 0.270 seconds.

After winning the last nine rounds, stretching back to his victory at September’s race in Japan, Verstappen heads into Sunday’s main event as the overwhelming favourite to take another triumph and match his own record.

“It was a bit unexpected today, but I am very happy with Q3,” said Verstappen. “Both of my laps felt nice and enjoyable. It has been a tricky weekend so far but we managed to be there at the end.”

Sainz, who had emergency surgery in Jeddah to remove his appendix just 15 days ago, added: “It has been a tough couple of weeks, a lot of days in bed, waiting to see if I would be here today, and to make it to this weekend and then to put it on the front row, I almost didn’t believe it.

“I was rusty yesterday but I got up to speed and found the pace and I feel good with the car. I am not going to lie, I am not in my most comfortable state when I am driving out there but I can get it done.”