The seven-time world champion finished sixth in qualifying at Barcelona, just over a tenth of a second and two places behind Russell, who secured Mercedes’ best Saturday result so far this season. 

Russell and Hamilton were separated by Red Bull’s Sergio Perez, with Russell ending up 0.643s off Charles Leclerc’s pole position lap. 

Despite his disappointment, Hamilton was quick to praise the work done by Mercedes as the reigning world champions took a significant step forward in Spain to address their bouncing problem and extract more pace from their W13 car. 

“The team have done such a great job so a big, big thank you to everyone back at the factory,” Hamilton said after qualifying. 

“We don’t have bouncing in a straight line which is a huge improvement for us and the car has generally been nicer this weekend. 

“We do have some bouncing through high speed corners like Turn 3 and Turn 9, so we need to keep working on that and see if we can improve it and gain a bit more downforce elsewhere. 

“I am a little gutted because I wanted to be further ahead. You’ve seen George is further ahead than me. But I will keep pushing.” 

Can Mercedes challenge Ferrari in the F1 Spanish GP? 

Although Mercedes lagged behind Ferrari in terms of one lap pace, Hamilton believes his team will be even more competitive come race day, and could potentially mix it up with Ferrari for the first time this season. 

“Yesterday was the best race pace that we have had,” he explained. “If we can racing against the Ferraris that would be amazing. 

“I think the Red Bulls look like they might be quickest but I think we might be able to compete with the Ferraris tomorrow and that’s a big step for us.” 

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff agreed with Hamilton. 

"I think we have done a solid step into Barcelona,” he said. “You’re trying to keep your expectations at a realistic point and I think where we slotted in today is the best we could have expected. 

“My belief is that we have a race car, more than a qualifying car. But we are going to see tomorrow how it went for the other ones.

“I think with Red Bull they always had the tendency of being much stronger in the race, less so Ferrari, but obviously that’s all glass ball reading.” 

Asked if Mercedes can still challenge for the championship or if the time has come to shift focus onto 2023, Wolff replied: “It’s a very good and valid question. 

“As the regulations stay the same for next year you at a certain stage you have to ask a simple question – what is good on that car and what do we think is not good and what do we not understand. 

“In order to make that decision for next year we have to come to the point we say ‘we understand’, and at the moment I think it’s still a little bit of trying.” 

Russell stars but ‘more lap time on the table’ 

Despite impressing on his way to fourth, Russell stressed he could have posted an even better lap had Mercedes been able to get the tyres into the correct operating window. 

“It wasn’t actually our most perfect qualifying session,” he said. “We didn’t have the tyres in the right window and I felt like there was more lap time on the table, yet we still came home P4 with our best qualifying of the season.” 

He added: “It was clear we were quickest in S1 but S3 we were lacking pace. We always know that’s the case around Barcelona. 

“It gives us optimism that if we maybe optimised everything we could have been P3 at a push. But I’m glad we’re on the right track.”