Mercedes-AMG F1 has attributed the blame for its lack of pace during qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix on a ‘tyre issue’.
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen locked out the front row by over half a second ahead of the Silver Arrows on Saturday afternoon in Shanghai.
The Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas looked to be struggling on the ultrasoft Pirelli compound, with Bottas qualifying third and Hamilton fourth after abandoning his final run in the last part of Q3.
Cold conditions in Shanghai appeared to be making things difficult for the Brackley squad, with its drivers seemingly unable to switch on the purple-walled ultrasoft compound during qualifying.
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff confirmed after the session that the tyres were indeed the problem, as the team attempts to re-group overnight ahead of Sunday’s race.
“I think it’s tricky,” Wolff told Sky Sports.
“We’re lacking grip, and you can fall out of the window by the tyres getting too hot, or by the tyres being too cold.
“The two extremes like we had in Bahrain. I think this is what happened.
“I think it’s a tyre issue. They’ve been really strong all day, already in the morning.
“Qualifying performance, they put one on top. It’s really… we have something to think about.
“Tomorrow it’s expected to be much warmer, so I hope that we’ve done the right thing set-up-wise and we’ll have better pace in the race than Ferrari.”
Bottas on the other hand believes the half a second deficit is not just down to tyre issues.
“We thought coming to today that we would be fighting for pole position but it was out of reach,” Bottas said.
“There was nothing in the lap we could have gained that much.
“Maybe a little bit in terms of getting the tyres absolutely perfect for the lap but it’s not half a second.
“They [Ferrari] have a really strong car, you can see especially in the long corners – Turn 1, 2 – they make some good gains to us.
“Obviously now without a big difference on the straights they can keep the gains they make in the corners.
“We saw in the race before that we’ve been better in general with the harder compounds and that [the softer tyres] is something we’re still working on to get more out of.
“Ferrari is doing something better on that. We definitely have work to do.”
The turn in pace from Ferrari has been a surprise for Hamilton, who is hoping he can fight back more so in the race than he was able to do during qualifying.
When asked what had changed from Friday to Saturday, Hamilton replied: “Ferrari picked up the pace.
“We definitely struggled in P3 (Practice 3) and then we got to qualifying and it definitely wasn’t easy to work these tyres,” he continued.
“At the end, I think we were kind of working them, but there was just not a lot of grip, so it’s partly tyres, but also they [Ferrari] do have another step in their engine that has really sprung them into serious action – which currently, we are not matching.”
The Chinese Grand Prix gets underway at 16:05 AEST on Sunday.