Japanese GP: Hamilton says feeling with Mercedes car has improved

SUZUKA, Japan -- Despite qualifying seventh for Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton said his feeling within his Mercedes car was the best he's had for three seasons.

Mercedes has been unable to challenge Red Bull and Max Verstappen since F1's current technical regulations were introduced at the start of 2022.

The team has made another slow start to the championship this year, with Hamilton scoring just eight points from the opening three races, but he said the feeling within the car was a lot better in Japan than it had been at the first three races and the two seasons before that.

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"It's been a night-and-day different weekend so far, just in terms of how comfortable I feel in the car," he said. "I think we did a really good job over this past week, the analysis everyone has done at the factory how we can get the car in the sweet spot, the car's been much nicer to drive this weekend, especially at a track like this where you need a nice balance. This is the nicest it's felt over the last three years.

"I think last year [at Suzuka] we were over a second off, I think 0.7s today, and I'm not trying all these random different things, so just focused on making sensible setup changes, and I think it's worked. But I was hoping we'd be further ahead."

"The lap felt really good, I was hopeful, I thought the lap was really, really good, but [the size of the gap] is to be expected from the Red Bull"

For the first time this year, Hamilton outqualified his teammate George Russell, but the seven-time champion, who will leave Mercedes for Ferrari at the end of this season, said he is not worried about the head-to-head competition with Russell this year.

"We're not fighting for a championship, we're just trying to get the best out of the car so it doesn't make any difference to me," he said. "I'm just happier with a cleaner qualifying session and a car that I'm starting to feel like I can lean on more, and that's a real positive."