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Hamilton feels Mercedes’ gap is smaller to top two than it appears

Lewis Hamilton says he would have been closer to the top two in the Spanish Grand Prix if he had not had a poor start that left him fighting back onto the podium.

George Russell took the lead from fourth on the grid at the start of Sunday’s race, with Hamilton initially slipping back from third to be behind the two Ferrari drivers. While he quickly cleared both on the opening lap, he was behind his teammate until the final stint when a difference in strategy helped Hamilton pass Russell and finish just under 18s behind race winner Max Verstappen.

“I have to say a big thank you to the team, because they’ve been training so hard in the pit stops,” Hamilton said. “The strategy in the pit stops was really on point. Unfortunately, a bit like Lando [Norris], I got a really bad start and obviously lost ground to the Ferraris, so it was a bit of a battle to get back to where I am now.

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“I think ultimately, with a better start, we would have… I don’t know if we could have really held on to the guys ahead, but I don’t think we would have been as far behind as we are today.”

Hamilton’s strategy also saw him having to overtake Carlos Sainz at one stage and the close battle led to the Ferrari driver complaining he’d been forced off track at Turn 1. The stewards opted against an investigation, and Hamilton says he understands Sainz’s complaints but that he’d left enough room for him to still make the next corner.

“It’s never a good feeling when you do get overtaken,” he said. “I think we had a nice tight battle into Turn 1. I left him some room, so I think he was still on the track. Ultimately, he left the door open on the inside, didn’t fully close it, and so I went for the inside and tried to make the corner. I think he came around. I think we touched wheels equally and nothing major. It was like a small scrub and I gave him some room on the exit.”

Third place marks Hamilton’s first podium of the season, and he says it’s the product of ongoing improvements both from the Mercedes car but also in the execution of his own weekend.

“We definitely are [building momentum],” he said. “We’re definitely getting more consistent, and if I can just get my qualifying to be like this weekend, then it makes the Sunday so much easier. Also, if you get a good start…

“My Saturdays have been so bad for the last, like, 15 races, so it’s good to have a clean weekend. Hopefully this puts us in a good position to challenge in the next few races.”

Story originally appeared on Racer