Lewis Hamilton says Mercedes face tougher competition from Red Bull in Abu Dhabi than in Brazil, but believes they can handle their rivals.
Mercedes took the front row grid at the Brazilian Grand Prix a week ago and came away with a one-two win. After the first day of racing in Abu Dhabi, Red Bull driver Max Verstappen set the fastest time.
On the other hand, Lewis Hamilton achieved the fastest time in the first free practice, but there were eight drivers in that practice, who took the places of the standard drivers.
After returning to his cars, Max Verstappen recorded the fastest lap, while Liam Lawson, who replaced Verstappen in his car, was in 5th position in the first practice session. Hamilton finished in 4th place in this session with a gap of 6 tenths.
However, the Mercedes driver saw that they are also extremely strong even though they did not expect it, so he believes that they are on the right track for the rest of the weekend and will be alongside Red Bull.
“I think Red Bull looks a bit faster here, which was expected, we didn’t expect this to be our strongest race. Therefore, we will work hard through the night. We’re generally here, so we’re hoping for a good fight,” Hamilton said.
The Brit notes that during the first practice session he was fine with the car, while in the second session the balance was slightly disturbed. However, he clarifies that he has made a few changes, but points out that they are there.
“The feeling at the first training session was quite good. In the second training, the balance was disturbed,” he added.
“I made some changes between the first and second (training) that were not right. So, a bit of a struggle in the second training session with a lot of understeer. That was mostly my limitation. So we’re going to make some changes overnight. But otherwise we were relatively competitive, we are there,” Hamilton indicated.
Considering Mercedes have been more competitive in races than qualifying this year, Hamilton’s team-mate George Russell doubts Red Bull’s lead could be bigger going into this weekend’s race.
“I think we had a very good day in terms of what we learned,” explains Russell. “We did a lot of test items, especially from my side in the first training session looking towards 2023. This is one of our last opportunities to test.”
“In the second practice obviously lower temperature of the track, the track changed completely and it seemed fast, but I think Red Bull is just holding us. In one lap they are probably two tenths [faster], in a race simulation maybe even further. Therefore, we have a bit of work to do overnight, but compared to Ferrari it looks reasonable.”
However, Russell also believes Mercedes are close enough to be within Red Bull’s range.
“I think we will fight for it. I’d like to think we can fight for the top three in qualifying and who knows where that can take us on Sunday.”