Lewis Hamilton enjoying driving Mercedes at Japanese GP and says team have found W15 ‘direction’

“It’s been night and day difference over the weekend so far just in terms of how comfortable I felt,” says Lewis Hamilton after Mercedes halve deficit to Suzuka pole versus 2023; watch Sunday’s Japanese GP at 6am on Sky Sports F1 and Main Event, with build-up from 5am

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George Russell believes there will be many opportunities tomorrow to push up the grid and Lewis Hamilton added how optimistic he is with the car’s improvements this weekend.

An encouraged Lewis Hamilton is optimistic Mercedes have found an improved direction to move forward with their inconsistent 2024 car after the first two days of the Japanese GP weekend.

Although Hamilton qualified seventh and George Russell ninth for Sunday’s Suzuka race, the seven-time champion took heart from the improved handling of the W15 and the fact they almost halved their deficit to pole position around the high-speed track compared to F1’s last visit in September when they trailed Red Bull by a full second.

Hamilton, who outqualified Russell for the first time in four attempts this season, had described Friday’s sole dry practice session as the best of Mercedes’ difficult season so far and, after qualifying, praised the team for the work completed on setting up the inconsistent W15 since the last race in Australia.

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“I was giving it everything,” said Hamilton to Sky Sports F1 after lapping 0.569s off Max Verstappen on pole to qualify between McLaren’s Oscar Piastri and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.

“The team did a really great job this past week making adjustments to our set-up – this is actually the first weekend I’ve not gone crazy with set-up and am not testing a bunch of things, so I’m back to a bit more normal.

“I think we’ve got the car into a much nicer working window and so it’s been really enjoyable driving, it’s just the guys [ahead] are just a little bit faster.

“We were a second or just over a second off last year to the Red Bull and seven [sic, six] tenths is better. Maybe if we had done something a little bit different maybe we could have been another tenth faster, maybe, but other than that that was everything.

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Qualifying highlights of the Japanese Grand Prix from the Suzuka Circuit.

“I think what it’s giving us is I know exactly where the car is not strong enough, I can feel it in the car, and I know now to be tell them to ‘push in this particular area’. But I’m hoping the race will be stronger tomorrow.”

Asked if that meant Mercedes had found a better direction to go in with the W15, Hamilton replied: “I personally believe so, yeah.

“What we have noticed is track to track it has been really, really hard to get the set-up right and it has been so far out each time. In some places it has felt like nothing we can do gets the car in a sweet spot.

“But this weekend it’s much more in the sweet spot and so I hope that continues in the following races, then we’ve just got to add performance.”

Hamilton: ‘Nicest it’s felt over the last three years’

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Sky F1’s Ted Kravitz reflects on all the big talking points from qualifying in Japan.

Speaking afterwards to the written media at Suzuka, Hamilton added: “It’s been night and day difference over the weekend so far just in terms of how comfortable I felt in the car.

“I think we did a really good job this past week, the analysis everyone has done at the factory just to try and understand how we can get the car in the sweet spot.

“The car’s been much nicer to drive this weekend and particularly at a track like this where you need a nice balance, this is the nicest it’s felt over the last three years.”

Many of Mercedes problems both last year, and so far this, have centred on their car’s inconsistent performance through high-speed corners – of which a track like Suzuka features many. Hamilton was therefore “hugely” encouraged by how the W15 was performing through sector’s famous sweeping opening sequence of corners, the Esses.

“Sector One is the best first sector of any circuit in the world. It’s absolutely incredible when the car is where you want it to be and I can feel exactly where the car is weak,” added Hamilton.

“This is the perfect test track because it exposes all the limitations of the car and what you need to improve on. I’m going to speak to my engineers so we can pinpoint what they are going to work on now.”

Russell predicts a ‘lot of opportunities’ for Mercedes in the race

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George Russell makes an unsafe release in front of Oscar Piastri in the pit lane during Q1.

The second Mercedes on the grid for the first time this season, Russell trailed Hamilton in all three qualifying segments to end up two places and 0.242s back on his team-mate.

“It’s just so tight out there between ourselves, McLaren, Aston Martin and Ferrari. If you nail that lap, you will be at the front of that pack, if you don’t, you will be at the back,” explained Russell.

“We knew this circuit would be a slight challenge for us. We know our limitation would be the high-speed corners.

“When you get to qualifying, you go through all the corners quicker. That fast Sector One, you go through there five to 15mph quicker than yesterday and that pushes us to the weak point of the car, so I expect it to be better [in the race].

And given the closeness of the chasing pack so far this weekend, Russell believes there will be plenty of opportunities to move forward.

“I think there’s a lot that can happen and everyone has different tyres available,” he added. “There will be many different strategies and a lot of opportunities. I think it will be a good race. It’s so tight out there between everyone.

“If you do a good job and nail it, you will jump three, four, five positions and compared to last year that would be one position.”

Stewards issued Mercedes with a €5,000 (£4,292) fine after qualifying for releasing Russell into the path of Oscar Piastri in Q1, finding that the mechanic who released him “did not look down to pit lane to see if it was clear.”

Sky Sports F1’s live Japanese GP schedule

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Look back on some of the most exciting title deciders to take place at the Japanese Grand Prix.

Sunday April 7
5am: Grand Prix Sunday Japanese GP build-up*
8am: Chequered Flag: Japanese GP reaction*
9am: Ted’s Notebook*
9.30am: Japanese Grand Prix highlights*
10.30am: Japanese Grand Prix replay

*also live on Sky Sports Main Event

Formula 1’s biggest ever season continues with the Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday, live on Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event with lights out at 6am. Stream every F1 race and more with a NOW Sports Month Membership – No contract, cancel anytime

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