Mercedes Formula 1 drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas were both left seeking answers for their lack of pace during Friday’s practice sessions for the Malaysian Grand Prix, having been tipped to dominate heading into the weekend.
Hamilton opened up a 28-point lead at the top of the drivers’ championship two weeks ago in Singapore, with the maths involved in delivering a fourth world title already being worked out with six races to go.
Mercedes was expected to dominate at Sepang given the fast-flowing nature of the circuit, only for Ferrari to upstage the Silver Arrows and finish over a second clear in FP2 on Friday.
Hamilton finished FP2 sixth-fastest ahead of Bottas in seventh, with both trailing McLaren-Honda driver Fernando Alonso.
Hamilton and Bottas both had off-track excursions and struggled with an overall lack of grip, leaving them uneasy about their chances heading into the rest of the weekend.
“It’s been a very difficult day,” Hamilton admitted.
“I’ve been struggling with the car today, so we have to review and try to understand where we have gone wrong with the balance.
“We’re hoping that we’re able to find our bearings overnight and regroup for tomorrow.”
Bottas added: “Those were obviously tricky practice sessions. We had quite limited running because of the rain in the morning. I also had a bit of an off in FP2 that cost us some time, we lost a few laps because of that. And then there was of course the red flag in the end.
“We didn’t get all the test items tested today, but I think that is going to be the case with all the teams. We’re definitely lacking some performance, it seems like Ferrari and Red Bull are very strong. So we have some work to do if we want to be on the front row tomorrow.
“The car balance itself didn’t feel too bad; it’s just a question of overall grip. The key area we are going to need to focus on tonight will be getting the maximum out of the tires over one lap.”
Running continues in Malaysia on Saturday with FP3 (2am ET, NBC Sports app) followed by qualifying (5am ET, NBCSN).