Hamilton arrived at the Red Bull Ring eager to bounce back from a late defeat to Verstappen in France last weekend that saw him lose further ground at the top of the drivers’ championship, the gap now standing at 12 points.
Verstappen was able to top both FP1 and FP2 for Red Bull on Friday, while Hamilton saw his best lap for Mercedes in second practice get deleted for a track limits breach that would otherwise have placed him P1.
Hamilton called his Friday running “a work in progress”, but believed a deficit remained to Red Bull for outright pace despite feeling relatively pleased with the Mercedes car.
“I think we were a little bit down, particularly over a single lap,” Hamilton said.
“But generally over the day, the car felt relatively solid. I [found] some weaknesses, and as I said coming into the weekend, we’re losing on the straight a considerable amount, so we’ve just got to keep working to try and rectify that.
“It’s very close I think with the whole pack. I think the Red Bulls, definitely, will be really hard to beat. I think they’ve just got the edge, maybe more. We don’t know what they’re going to do when they turn that engine up.
“But yeah, I really don’t know what to say, because I didn’t really have too many big problems today. I’m happier with where we got the car to.
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12
Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images
“I’ve been working flat out like all week, trying to understand where I want to put the car. I’m hopeful that the hard work starts paying off soon.”
After seeing his best lap time get deleted in FP2, Hamilton ended the session fourth overall, lapping four-tenths of a second slower than Verstappen’s best effort.
Red Bull is currently on a three-race winning streak, allowing it to move into the lead of both championships for the first time since 2013.
Hamilton said he would “do everything I can during the evening to make steps in the right direction” and cut the gap, but felt he was “kind of eking most of it out of the car” already.
“I don’t know if it’s four-tenths gap, we’ll see what happens tomorrow,” Hamilton said.
“I think one of my laps got taken away and it was a lot closer. Yeah. It’s close. But as I said, particularly in the race pace, they were really, really strong.
“They’re throwing some really good punches right now, so we’ve just got to have our guards up and make sure we’re ready for the return.”