After returning to the cockpit for FP2 having sat out the first session for Mercedes reserve Nyck de Vries, Hamilton ended up fifth-fastest in second practice at Paul Ricard, some 0.9s off the pace and 0.2s back from teammate George Russell. 

Since introducing an aerodynamic upgrade package at the British Grand Prix, Mercedes have enjoyed an upturn in competitiveness. 

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Mercedes were viewed as potential contenders for victory in France heading into the weekend, with the German manufacturer bringing further new parts to their W13. 

But seven-time world champion Hamilton admitted Mercedes were further off the pace than anticipated in France, adding his car was “not spectacular” in FP2. 

Asked where Mercedes are lacking compared to Red Bull and Ferrari, Hamilton replied: “Just everywhere, to be honest, every corner. 

“I mean I’m going to have to dig deep into the data, but it just feels like we’re lacking downforce today. But otherwise it’s okay, I can only have empathy for the guys that are further back. 

“I think generally this generation of car, it’s definitely nowhere near as it used to be in terms of grip we had in the past, but it also is the first year of this generation so I’m sure it’ll get better over the years. 

“But we have work to do, we’re a little bit further behind than we anticipated this weekend.” 

On Mercedes’ prospects for the rest of the weekend, Hamilton said: “We’d be hopefully fighting [for] fourth and fifth, that’s the region we’d be fighting for. 

“But it doesn’t mean we can’t be on the podium. We can still be up there, just not as quick as those front guys and a little bit further back than at the last race.” 

French GP win an ‘outside shot’ for Mercedes 

Teammate Russell, who was 0.764s off the FP2 pace set by Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, added: “Everybody keeps on improving their cars and bringing updates. 

"The whole grid just moves forward. Even though we’re finding time, our rivals are also finding time. So it’s not sometimes not quite as simple to see it on the lap charts.” 

While one-lap speed might have gone the way of Ferrari, at least on Friday, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was the fastest driver on race pace. 

Although Mercedes lagged behind their rivals in terms of outright pace, Russell was encouraged by his team’s performance over the long runs. 

“I think our high fuel pace was probably better than our low fuel pace,” he said. “We need to make sure we optimise tomorrow to make sure there’s no midfield cars between us and the front four and then see how we get on for Sunday. 

“I think the Ferrari’s probably struggled more than us [with degradation], Max looked fast as usual, so work to do.” 

When asked whether he thinks Mercedes still have an outside shot of victory in France, Russell replied: “Outside shot is probably the way to put it. 

“We were probably a little bit further off the pace today than we would have hoped. Work to do tonight back at the factories, but never say never.”