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Hamilton: Mercedes “nicest it’s felt” in three years at perfect F1 test track Suzuka

Lewis Hamilton says his Mercedes Formula 1 car is “the nicest it’s felt” over the past three years at Suzuka, a venue he regards as the “perfect test track”.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W15

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Hamilton qualified only seventh for the Japanese GP, 0.569s off poleman Max Verstappen but just 0.084s shy of the fourth-placed Ferrari of Carlos Sainz.

Despite the disappointing grid position, the seven-time world champion insists the past two days have given him a clearer idea of what direction his team needs to take.

He says he’s had to make minimal changes to his W15 over the Japanese GP weekend, and has not been trying “random things”.

"It's been a night and day different weekend so far, just in terms of how comfortable I felt in the car,” he said, when asked by Autosport about his comfort factor with the car.

“We did a really good job over this past week, just the analysis everyone's done at the factory to try and understand how we can get the car in a sweeter spot. The car has been much nicer to drive this weekend.

“Particularly on a track like this, where you need a nice balance, this is the nicest it’s felt over the last three years. Last year, we were over a second off, we were seven-tenths today.

“But also this weekend, I'm not trying all these different random things. So I've been just much more focused on making sensible changes. I think it's worked. I was hoping we would be further ahead. But unfortunate.”

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes-AMG F1 Team

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes-AMG F1 Team

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

Hamilton was particularly pleased by the performance of the W15 in the twisty first sector of the track, where change of direction is key.

“[It was] hugely encouraging,” he said. “Sector 1 is the best first sector of any circuit. It's absolutely incredible when the car is where you want it to be, and I can feel exactly where the car is weak.

“This is the perfect test track, it exposes always the limitations of a car, and where you need to improve it.

“I know when I go and speak to my engineers now where I need to pinpoint what they got to work on. It's going to take some time.”

Hamilton insisted the car didn’t slip out of its sweet spot during qualifying despite a frustrating Q3 session.

"The car felt good,” he said. “The last lap I already felt when I went to Turn 1 I had a bit of oversteer on the way in, so I knew already it was not going to be spectacular.

“I was already a tenth down out of Turn 2. I know why that is, but there's not much more left. I pretty much got everything out of the car. We just need to add performance to it.”

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W15

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W15

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Earlier in the session Hamilton sounded shocked when told after completing a lap that Verstappen was half a second clear: “Yeah I was,” he admitted. “Because the lap felt really good. I was hopeful.

“I thought the lap was really, really good. I came around and it was half a second down, but it's to be expected, it's a Red Bull.”

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He also downplayed the relevance of outperforming team-mate George Russell so far this weekend.

“We're not fighting for a championship, we're just trying to get the best out of our car,” he said. 

“So it doesn't really make any difference to me, but I'm happier with a cleaner qualifying session, and a car that I'm starting to feel like I can lean on more.”

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