Lewis Hamilton says his team’s Singapore struggles are the result of the same inherent car problems that have plagued Mercedes at the tropical street circuit since 2014.
Hamilton and teammate Valtteri Bottas qualified fifth and sixth, 0.635 and 1.319 seconds off Sebastian Vettel’s pole time.
Despite enjoying a three-year period of unchallenged dominance, Mercedes has always lacked ultimate competitiveness in Singapore, most famously in 2015, when it qualified fifth and sixth from where neither car could make it to the top three.
Mercedes’s issues with streets circuits have been a major weakness in 2017, but since its woeful Monaco Grand Prix, the only race this year in which neither silver car has finished on the podium, the team worked hard to rectify the car’s incompatibilities with slow-speed circuits.
Singapore, however, remains seemingly unobtainable for the team, and Hamilton confirmed the car is suffering from the same problems.
“Exactly the same — same things we’ve had for years,” he said. “The car, with the way it has been designed for years, it just doesn’t work particularly great here.
“They [Ferrari and Red Bull Racing] are in a different place with their cars. Obviously half a second is a good chunk of time.
“We just lack enough grip here to be able to take the car.”
The Briton, however, refused to take a pessimistic outlook, noting that his qualifying performance had not been lacking despite his slow car.
“All my laps very much the same; I got everything out of all the laps.
“That qualifying session was just as strong as ones where I’ve actually qualified pole.
“While it doesn’t really show, it was a really strong session for me. Generally qualifying’s been really strong this year, I’d say.
“If I keep that, then I know that when the car does come to us, hopefully I’ll be able to execute and the result will show it.”
Hamilton’s gap to Bottas behind him is evidence of the Briton’s claims to have maximised the car’s performance.
Bottas, 41 points behind his teammate in the championship and almost certainly discounted from the title chase, was confused by his lack of pace.
“Actually it felt like I was having some good laps,” he said.
“I always kind of know that with an absolutely perfect lap of mine how much I could go quicker ideally, but it was just confusing that the gap was so great, because I didn’t think it was possible for me.
“It’s difficult to put it only down to confidence. It felt like I was driving okay and could trust the car, but I just couldn’t find any more out of the car.”
The Finn credited his inability to hone the car’s setup as the chief cause of his problems after swinging between something close to his teammate’s configuration and a series of dramatically different arrangements.
The result of the confusion is that Bottas goes into the race unsure of his prospects.
“I have to say I don’t go into tomorrow with great confidence with the pace,” he said. “At this point I’m not going into tomorrow thinking I’m going to have a massive pace advantage to the cars ahead, so we just really need to go lap by lap.”
However, he added that he wouldn’t allow himself to become downcast by Saturday’s results.
“I just need to reset. Of course it is disappointing to be so way off the pace, but I never have problems resetting for a new day.
“It is a new day, and it doesn’t help at all thinking too much about the struggles. I just need to go with a neutral mindset and a good, positive approach, always thinking anything is possible, because that’s the truth — you never know what opportunities come to you.
“Sometimes by magic the pace can be good. You never know.”