Hamilton took fourth place on the grid behind Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari and the Red Bull pair of Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez at Paul Ricard, but ended up 0.893s off Leclerc’s pole time.

The seven-time world champion out qualified fellow Brits Lando Norris and Mercedes teammate George Russell, who was over three tenths adrift of Hamilton’s effort in sixth. 

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Speaking to Sky after qualifying, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff praised the job done by Hamilton, describing his performance as “immense”. 

“If Sainz [who drops to the back with a grid penalty] is there it’s P5 but still a great, great job,” Wolff said. “He’s probably extracted more than the car has at the moment.” 

Mercedes were tipped to potentially challenge for their first victory of the 2022 season at Paul Ricard due to the circuit’s characteristics and smooth surface. 

But it quickly became apparent that Mercedes were still lagging behind their rivals in terms of one lap pace throughout practice, despite bringing further updates to their W13. 

Mercedes looked like they would end up over a second off the pace of Ferrari until Hamilton strapped on a set of fresh tyres and improved his time on his final Q3 run. 

“I think we knew that once we got the new tyres on and we are driving the car in anger that we would be there in third or fourth, like we have been all season,” said Wolff. 

“But it’s just not good enough.

Wolff added: “You can see that when you are on a little bit of a back foot, your expectations are on a certain level for the race weekend and it doesn’t come together, a kind of free styling starts. 

“With us it was mainly experimenting with rear wing levels and also tyre temperatures. But in the end the overall package is just not quick enough and we can see that.” 

Hamilton ‘not sure why the gap has got bigger’ 

Despite his strong qualifying performance, Hamilton was puzzled as to how the gap to Mercedes’ rivals has appeared to increase at Paul Ricard. 

“Position wise yes I am really happy with my qualifying session, if i am honest,” said Hamilton. 

"My last lap was great. I finished it and thought that was an awesome lap but I was still nine tenths off the guys ahead

“I am not sure why that gap has got bigger over these two races. They are in their own league in that respect performance wise.”

Hamilton added: “I came here thinking last race we were three or four tenths off and I thought maybe this weekend we would maybe two or three tenths off and we have been a second [off] all weekend. 

“To get to nine tenths, I was happy with my lap and with my performance but they are in their own place. But we are still there so everyone behind me is struggling too. So we just keep fighting.”