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Worst qualifying in ten years, admits Wolff

Assuming there are no repeats of the Abu Dhabi fiasco, as fans recall the season over the coming winter, one moment is sure to sprint to mind, that of Lewis Hamilton’s incredulity when told of the gap to Max Verstappen.

“One point eight seconds?” he uttered, the shock all too clear in his voice.

At a time the German team was expected to take advantage of the grid penalties handed to the Dutchman and Charles Leclerc, and coming off the back of successive double podiums in France and Hungary, Mercedes appears to have actually lost ground.

“You can’t be on pole three weeks before – albeit for very different conditions, different track – and then be 1.8 seconds off the pace at the next one,” said an equally stunned Toto Wolff.

“There’s something which we totally don’t understand, or seem to get right,” he added. “Clearly, Red Bull is here in a league of their own, as the next Ferrari is eight tenths off. But that is no consolation.

“It’s for me the worst qualifying session that I had in ten years,” he admitted. “And irrespective of what positions we’re going to start tomorrow, being on pole the previous weekend and three weeks later being nowhere, it’s just not acceptable for ourselves.”

“We came here very, very optimistic we would be able to be close,” added Hamilton. “Half a second, who knows… but to be 1.8 seconds behind, it’s a real kick in the teeth. But it is what it is.

“I’m gutted for the team because we’re giving it our all but it’s the fundamentals of this car, sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s really bad.

“It’s a car that we continue to struggle with and I definitely won’t miss it at the end of the year,” the seven-time champ admitted. “For me it’s just about focussing on how we build and design next year’s car.

“The other two teams ahead of us are in another league, and our car looks so much different to theirs. Everyone’s working for improvements, but we have a lot of work to do. We will do the best we can for the rest of the season.”

Even title rival Leclerc was clearly blown away by Verstappen’s pace.

“There’s some potential obviously because we didn’t prepare qualifying as much as we normally do,” said the Monegasque. “But when you see the gap to Max, it’s a bit worrying.

“They are extremely quick, and it’s been the case since the beginning of the weekend, and we cannot explain quite why, so we need to work. We’ll try our best, but they seem to have found something this weekend.

“They are way too fast, there’s nothing that we could have done,” he admitted. “Or nothing that would have changed anything for our starting position. We had to beat Max in qualifying but today the car is just not at that level.”

Even though he starts from pole, with Verstappen relegated to the back of the grid (15th), Carlos Sainz fears it won’t be long before he sees the Dutchman in his mirrors.

“With the pace Max has, I think that as soon as there’s a safety car, that can help him close the gap, or even with the pace that he has, if you translate it into 44 laps, he can come back. And we’ve seen him do it before.

“That will not be my focus,” he continued, “obviously the first and second stint, it will be a straight battle with Checo and the Mercedes if they have the race pace, but we will try to pull away for sure.

“If I would have done his lap that he did today, I would also be confident that as soon as something happens at the front or if there is a safety car to close the gap, that he can make it,” he said of the world champion.

Check out our Saturday gallery from Spa here.

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