Mercedes have dominated in China in recent years. Indeed, you have to go back seven years for the last time a Silver-Arrows’ car failed to line up on the front row. Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas lines up in third.
Revealing following qualifying session, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff reckoned his team’s struggles were similar to the trouble it had managing tyre temperatures in qualifying for the previous race in Bahrain.
“No [we didn’t expect Ferrari to be so strong]. They’ve been really strong all day. Their qualifying performance they put one on top and we really have something to think about.” Wolff told Sky Sports F1.
“It’s tricky. We are lacking grip. You can fall out of the window by the tyres getting too hot or being too cold. It’s two extremes like we had in Bahrain. I think it’s a tyre issue.
“Tomorrow it’s expected to be a lot warmer so I hope we have done the right thing set-up-wise and we have better pace in the race than Ferrari.
“There is not a lot of strategic plays either. If we have pace then we can undercut or overcut.”
Hamilton said he didn’t have an answer for Mercedes’ shortage of pace in China.
“The car felt OK but I don’t really have the answer for it.
“I think it’s in the top three of the easier tracks to overtake. The Ferraris are too fast on the straight so it will be interesting.
“It’s a lot hotter tomorrow so it will be a challenge to see if we can keep up with them.
“I don’t know if we can challenge – we were half a second behind today. We were quicker in the last race but they were able to hold on and will probably do the same tomorrow.”
While Hamilton’s team-mate Bottas said tyre temperatures couldn’t explain the entirety of the half-second gap to Ferrari.
“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.”