More than once Lewis Hamilton came close to retiring in Monaco qualifying, but each time the Mercedes driver was able to save himself in the next section with his last try.
“I didn’t try to always do it at the last minute, but it just happened that way.” Because Hamilton had big problems getting the tires up to temperature on Saturday and therefore always had to drive several laps to get into the right window.
But of course that wasn’t without risk: “I was always able to make it on the last lap, but my heart was pounding in my throat,” he says.
Because he knew: If there is a yellow or a red flag, then it’s over and he’s out. “But we got through it and I’m really grateful for the round that we managed.”
Because the last lap in Q3 put Hamilton in sixth place, and the penalty against Charles Leclerc gave him another starting position on Sunday. “I’ll take everything I can get,” laughs the Mercedes driver.
Still, Mercedes’ new upgrade hasn’t brought the desired result, although Hamilton says he’s clearly felt the improvements – especially in the front end.
Hamilton decides against his team
The seven-time world champion still had a few wishes left unfulfilled. Before qualifying, he had identified the middle sector as a weak point and, against the will of his team, made a change to the car, which made it a little more difficult for him in the last sector. “But you can’t have everything,” he says.
“We tried something at the weekend, but there was some uncertainty,” explains Hamilton. “We went halfway back on the other car, but I still had it all the way. So I said we should take it off, but they were like, ‘No, no, no. We should leave it on.'”
But Hamilton prevailed against his team: “I was sure and said: ‘If I’m wrong, I’ll take the blame.'”
And initially, according to motorsport boss Toto Wolff, the “brave decision” didn’t seem to pay off: “The car never really felt together,” he says, “and we had to take a third set of tires in Q2. There was a lot of pressure.”
In the end, Hamilton even ended up ahead of his teammate George Russell and sees himself prepared for the race: “It was maybe a little worse on one lap, but I think it will be better in the race.”
At Mercedes, however, you have to admit that positions six and eight were not what you had hoped for with the new upgrade: “I think positions six and eight are not good,” says Wolff. “But I also think three tenths down on a less positive Q3 is solid for both drivers.”
Hamilton had meanwhile complained about the drivability of his W14, but Wolff denied that it had anything to do with the upgrade: “No, that had nothing to do with the upgrade,” he clarifies. “It was what we tried in qualifying that didn’t make it easier.”
Hamilton himself admits that the upgrade took much longer than expected: “Definitely. I don’t know what else to say! It’s definitely difficult when you see that the concept has proven itself and it works. But it’s not that easy to just change it.”
He refers to Aston Martin, who had already changed their concept at the beginning of last year, but according to him have not become faster. “It required a whole heap of work over the winter,” he says.
Mercedes “still dependent on others”
And although Mercedes is now going the Red Bull route, the Bulls are still way ahead: “The fact is that we’re going more in that direction, but the airflow that they have – how they control the vortices and everything else – is still a bit different from ours,” says Hamilton.
“I think we still have to work on being able to use a similarly small wing like them,” said the Briton. “We’re still not that efficient, they still have less drag, they still have more downforce everywhere, so we still have a lot of work to do to catch up.”
You could also see that in qualifying in Monaco: “At the moment we are still dependent on others,” he knows. “When Checo hits a wall, we say thank you. But Ocon came out of nowhere. He drove a great lap.”
“I was really hoping that Fernando [Alonso] would end up on pole. I saw it and thought this could be fantastic for him. But the Red Bull was just too fast. But the Aston is now almost on par with Red Bull and they’ve done a fantastic job there.”
“I’m really happy for Aston and I hope we can be there soon.”