Lewis Hamilton admitted he was baffled by Mercedes‘ qualifying pace at the 2023 Qatar Grand Prix, as he initially finished fifth but moved up to third after both McLarens had their final laptimes deleted.
Lando Norris and George Russell were the only drivers to get within half a second of polesitter Max Verstappen, before the McLaren driver was dropped to the back of Q3 after he exceeded track limits on both his laps in the final session.
That, alongside Oscar Piastri‘s demotion to sixth for the same offence, means Russell and Hamilton line up second and third in the grand prix after the seven-time champion topped Q2, but was only 14th in Q1.
“It’s confusing because we were nearly out of Q1, which is incredibly frustrating in that moment, but then we get into Q2 and all of a sudden we’re right up there,” Hamilton told the media. “So it’s very, very strange. But it’s really great for all the team for us to be up there and George did a great job today.
“So for us to be so close is pretty awesome. I mean, for me, it was a relatively average qualifying session – Q1 and Q3 particularly. I was able to put together the lap but it came too early, in Q2 so I wish I had that for Q3.”
Not thinking about Perez battle
Mercedes‘ qualifying result was inflated by the late relegations for McLaren, but Hamilton still took a useful step in his battle for second in the Drivers’ Championship.
He trails Sergio Perez by 33 points with six races to go in 2023, but the Mexican was a surprise elimination in Q2 after he also suffered a deleted time for track limits.
That dropped him down to 13th and Hamilton will have a golden opportunity to put a sizeable dent into the deficit on Sunday’s Qatar GP.
Before that, he’ll have the sprint shootout and race to get more of a handle on Mercedes‘ pace, but he said he won’t be considering the fight with Perez.
“No, I’m trying to win the race. It doesn’t matter who I’m fighting against,” Hamilton added.