Austrian GP: Lewis Hamilton insists win 'out of the question' after fourth place in qualifying
Lewis Hamilton tips "easy cruise win" for Max Verstappen in Austrian GP, with championship leader on pole and Hamilton fourth; Valtteri Bottas, fifth in the other Mercedes, says team have gone "backwards" despite work between Austria races
By Matt Morlidge
Last Updated: 04/07/21 2:12pm
Lewis Hamilton insists an Austrian GP victory is "out of the question" and has tipped an "easy cruise" for Max Verstappen, after the seven-time world champion surprisingly slumped to fourth in qualifying.
Hamilton and Mercedes have stressed all week it would be tough to close in on Red Bull after their consistent advantage at the same Spielberg circuit last weekend, and Saturday's shootout not only confirmed their fears - but also suggested the world champions have lost time to the title leaders rather than closed in.
Hamilton and team-mate Valtteri Bottas finished 0.3s behind pole-sitter Verstappen and, in even worse news, that deficit allowed Lando Norris and Red Bull's Sergio Perez to leapfrog Mercedes on the grid for Sunday's race.
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Hamilton, therefore, starts three places behind title rival Verstappen, with Bottas on the third row in fifth.
"Even more of a challenge than it was last week," admitted Hamilton, who was on the front row last week and travelled to Mercedes' factory during the week in a bid to find more performance. "We continue to lack pace.
"We've tried everything to get more out of the car and it's just the underlying pace, that is where we're at at the moment."
Bottas said "it seems we went a little bit backwards from last weekend", while Hamilton downplayed any hopes of a victory.
Asked if a win was out of the question by Sky F1's Rachel Brookes, he replied: "I would say so, in pure pace it's definitely out of the question.
"Firstly, I've got two cars to get by in front and they've [Red Bull] got three tenths on us because they've improved their car again this weekend."
He then predicted: "I would say it's an easy cruise win for Max. I think for us it's to try and get ahead of at least Perez, and try to limit the damage this weekend."
Verstappen currently leads Hamilton by 18 points in the title standings, although the Mercedes driver has managed to keep that gap that slender by finishing second behind the Dutchman for his recent race wins.
As Hamilton says, he will have to pass at least two cars to do that on Sunday.