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Lewis Hamilton: Mercedes driver says car inconsistency 'messes with mind' after early Australia GP qualifying exit

Lewis Hamilton qualified 11th for the Australian GP after making a surprise Q2 exit; the seven-time world champion has been out-qualified by Mercedes team-mate George Russell at all three 2024 races; watch the Australian GP live on Sky Sports F1 at 4am on Sunday morning

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Lewis Hamilton says the Mercedes felt great in P3 but struggled in the wind at Albert Park and is frustrated with the inconsistency of the car

Lewis Hamilton said the inconsistency of his Mercedes car "really messes with the mind" after making a surprise early exit from qualifying at the Australian Grand Prix.

The seven-time world champion's underwhelming start to his final season with Mercedes ahead of his move to Ferrari continued in Melbourne on Saturday as he qualified 11th for Sunday's race.

Hamilton had described Friday's second practice as "one of the worst sessions for a long time" but Mercedes appeared to have made significant overnight progress when Hamilton finished within a tenth of pace-setter Charles Leclerc in final practice on Saturday morning.

However, in the windier afternoon conditions at Albert Park, Mercedes lost performance and a scruffy lap at the end of Q2 saw Hamilton outpaced by Aston Martin's Lance Stroll and RB's Yuki Tsunoda before Red Bull's Max Verstappen went on to take pole.

"It felt great in P3," Hamilton told Sky Sports F1. "It was strange because we were right there with these guys and we didn't really understand why.

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Qualifying highlights of the Australian Grand Prix from Albert Park

"But then go into qualifying, it's just another inconsistency within the car, it really messes with the mind."

Hamilton explained that there is a "long list" of issues that are contributing to his early-season struggles.

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"I think our car is on a bit of a knife edge," Hamilton said.

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Huge shock as Lewis Hamilton is knocked out in Q2 by Lance Stroll, who improves his time and knocks the Mercedes driver down to P11

"In the afternoon here the wind picks up, the same as P2. P1 was a bit better and then when the wind picks up, the car becomes a lot more unstable. And then this morning was nice with calmer wind, and then as soon as the wind picks up it gets a little bit less stable.

"But the other teams picked their pace up in qualifying. I'm not sure why, but the grid didn't feel the same in qualifying. Even though we had lighter fuel, it felt better in P3. So it's not a great feeling, for everyone in the team, but we'll just keep cracking away."

Russell: I feel more confident and consistent than Hamilton

George Russell claimed seventh on the grid to establish a 3-0 qualifying head-to-head over Hamilton for the season, with the former well positioned to set the same score-line for race results on Sunday.

"George did a good job today," Hamilton added. "It is what it is. I just have to try to do a better job tomorrow."

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George Russell believes the Melbourne circuit does not play to the Mercedes' strengths but hopes they will be in a better position in the race tomorrow

The pair have been very closely matched since Russell joined the team in 2022, but the 26-year-old hasn't quite comfortably outperformed Hamilton so far this year.

"From my side, I feel a bit more confidence and consistency with the car," Russell told Sky Sports F1. "We know we need to improve in the high-speed corners and on this track there are quite a few of those."

"I think we will be in a much better place tomorrow when we have more fuel in the car and the pace is a little slower from everybody. But this circuit is not playing to our strengths."

Asked to explain why he appears to be having a different experience to Hamilton in the W15, Russell added: "I'm just focused on myself and my team and trying to maximise it.

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George Russell fumes at Lewis Hamilton's positioning on the track during final practice for the Australian Grand Prix

"I can't really comment on Lewis' feeling. Ultimately, we are not quite where we want to be.

"We had a strong qualifying in Bahrain with P3. If it wasn't for the problems in the race we would have been fighting for the podium and we were P5 in Jeddah.

"P7 is not ideal but there's definitely a lot to play for tomorrow."

Wolff: Catching Red Bull in short term is an illusion

After two disappointing seasons since new design regulations were introduced to F1 in 2022, Mercedes were hopeful that major off-season changes to their design philosophy would help them close the gap to Red Bull.

That optimism remained after a relatively impressive showing at pre-season testing, but it's Ferrari who have emerged as a clear second-best, with Mercedes scrapping with McLaren and Aston Martin behind them.

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Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff says Mercedes' lack of performance is not for a lack of trying but it is not good enough after qualifying P7 and P11

"It's especially underwhelming because we were within a tenth in FP3," Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff told Sky Sports F1.

"The conditions were a little bit different but there is no excuse. We have a car that's difficult and you can be narrowly in and out of the window.

"As much as I'm annoyed at myself for saying this for a long time, we just need to continue working on it and trying to get better. It's not because of a lack of trying that we are where we are, but it's not good enough."

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Karun Chandhok takes a look at Lewis Hamilton's qualifying lap after his shock Q2 exit in Melbourne

Asked whether he has accepted that the W15 is not going to enable Mercedes to apply pressure to Red Bull this season, Wolff responded: "I think it's an illusion to go closer to Red Bull in the short term.

"But I still have to believe that there is more in this car, and to see those performances like this morning, that is not a bad car that is able to achieve that.

"It's so tricky, like I said, to be out of the performance window, and we've just got to continue to work on it."

Sky Sports F1's live Australian GP schedule

The third round of the 2024 F1 season takes place on Sunday, with lights out at 4am on Sky Sports F1
Image: The third round of the 2024 F1 season takes place on Sunday, with lights out at 4am on Sky Sports F1

Sunday March 24

  • 12.30am: F2 Feature Race
  • 3am: Australian GP build-up: Grand Prix Sunday
  • 6am: Australian GP reaction: Chequered Flag
  • 7am: Ted's Notebook
  • 7.30am: Australian GP highlights
  • 8.30am: Australian GP build-up: Grand Prix Sunday replay
  • 9.30am: Australian GP race replay
  • 10am: Australian GP highlights (Sky Showcase)
  • 11.30am: Australian GP reaction: Chequered Flag replay

Formula 1's biggest ever season continues with the Australian Grand Prix live on Sky Sports F1 at 4am on Sunday, live on Sky Sports F1. Stream every F1 race and more with a NOW Sports Month Membership - No contract, cancel anytime

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