Former Formula 1 world champion Jenson Button has admitted his surprise that seven-time title-winner Lewis Hamilton has dropped back down the pack at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. There had been an expectation that he might build on his third place at the Bahrain Grand Prix but he suffered a shocking qualifying display.
Jenson Button is surprised that Lewis Hamilton is struggling to match teammate George Russell’s performance in Saudi Arabia.
Russell was the sixth fastest in qualifying on Saturday with his more experienced teammate way back in 16th, so he is currently set to start in 14th after retirements and regulations are enforced.
There is a possibility that given the starkly lacklustre pace he set in his drives that the car will abandon the current set-up and make severe enough changes that would warrant starting from the back as punishment.
Speaking to Sky Sports, former world champion Button said he was taken aback to see how much the seven-time winner has trailed his teammate.
“It’s kind of a strange one to see that much of a gap between a teammate of Lewis, and Lewis.
“It was the same in Bahrain but the other way around. Lewis was almost a second quicker than George in Bahrain. He got the tyres in a working range that works with the car, whereas he wasn’t able to do that in Saudi Arabia.
“Really strange qualifying session for him. Very unexpected for him, for the team, for the whole of F1 to see him that far down.”
Button wondered if the Mercedes team would make significant alterations to the car before the start of the race on Sunday evening.
“It’s going to be interesting to see what he does,” he said. “He’s going to start in 14th, or are they going to change the car and start him at the back? Starting 14th with the balance he has, it’s going to be tricky to make inroads into the top 10.
“It’s tricky, you still want to start the season with a strong car. It’s the start of new regulations, most cars will develop a lot throughout the year. Mercedes will probably develop more than most because they are just very good at that, as we’ve seen with regulation changes in the past.
“It’s a surprise for everyone in the paddock. Bahrain, tricky one, Lewis came back with a podium which was a great drive. Here it was a step backwards and we felt they would be a little bit more competitive with a fast flowing race here.”
Button also suggested that Russell’s success is tempered by the fact that the junior driver knows there is much work to be done when he too trails the Ferraris and Red Bulls.
“Obviously it’s 1-1 in qualifying, and Lewis kind of destroyed George in qualifying [in Bahrain]. It seems really hard to get the car in working range, that’s what George said. He seemed pretty downbeat, he knows this isn’t where Mercedes should be and it will take a lot of hard work”.