Mercedes suffered its least competitive qualifying session in a decade with George Russell and Hamilton only able to qualify 11th and 13th respectively for the first sprint race of the year at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. 

After Mercedes failed to get at least one of its cars into Q3 for the first time since the 2012 Japanese Grand Prix, Hamilton was seen engaging in an akward-looking discussion with team boss Toto Wolff. 

Wolff appeared visibly displeased while Hamilton kept his helmet on throughout the animated chat. The seven-time world champion refused to elaborate on the details of their conversation after qualifying. 

“It is all internal stuff, I’d rather not share that,” Hamilton said. “We will just keep working. It is what it is. 

“We will just keep working hard. Each weekend is a rescue.”

It was already looking very unlikely that either Mercedes driver would have the pace to progress into the top-1o shootout, but their hopes of improving were dashed as heavy rain drenched the circuit during a red flag period after Carlos Sainz crashed his Ferrari. 

Hamilton had narrowly avoided his second Q1 elimination of the season thanks to a last-gasp improvement that put him just 0.004s clear of AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda. 

“It wasn’t a great session,” he admitted. “Naturally, it is disappointing. We came here with optimism. Everyone has worked hard at the factory. It is disappointing. I think we underperformed as a team today. 

“There are things we should have done that we did not do. We’ll work as hard as we can to move up in the sprint race - it will be a difficult race. Hopefully tomorrow is better weather-wise.” 

‘Things can only go up’ for Mercedes 

Russell revealed that tyre warm-up had been an issue once again for Mercedes at Imola and was left to rue the timing of the red flag in Q2 that ultimately ruined both drivers’ qualifying. 

“We've always struggled a little bit to get the temperature in the tyre and we are always seemingly taking a bigger jump on the second lap,” said Russell.

“We saw that in Australia as well when we compare to the Alpines and McLarens, they were a first lap qualifier and we had to do it on the third lap or even fifth lap. So, it was a bit of a shame with how the red flags panned out today. 

"But obviously, if there is a weekend to not be where we want to be, the sprint weekend is the one to do it. It’s not ideal but we have a chance to recover those positions tomorrow.” 

And Russell is unsure about Mercedes’ chances of improving in Saturday’s sprint race, the result of which will determine the grid for Sunday’s grand prix. 

“Usually in these sprint races, not so much happens,” he added. “It will be interesting with these new cars if we can follow a bit closer. 

“But I don't think there are enough laps with enough degradation for us to take our advantage when we are generally stronger compared to our current rivals, which this weekend aren't the top two teams. 

“Let's see what we can do. We've got Sunday as well. It can only go up."