The seven-time world champion could only qualify seventh at Spa-Francorchamps after posting a time that was nearly two seconds adrift of pacesetter Max Verstappen, while he also ended up behind both Alpines. 

However, Hamilton will move up three positions for Sunday’s grand prix and start fourth due to engine-related grid penalties for seven drivers including Verstappen, Charles Leclerc and Esteban Ocon. 

Mick Schumacher's F1 future - STAY or GO?

Hamilton described the session as a “real kick in the teeth” for Mercedes, who arrived in Belgium optimistic about their chances after cutting the gap to rivals Red Bull and Ferrari before the summer break. 

“Everyone’s working for improvements,” Hamilton told Sky. 

“We came here very, very optimistic we would be able to be close - half a second, who knows. To be 1.8 seconds behind, it's a real kick in the teeth. But it is what it is. 

“It's a car that we continue to struggle with and I definitely won’t miss it at the end of the year. For me, it’s just about focussing on how we build and design next year’s car

“The other two teams ahead of us are in another league and our car looks so much different to theirs. 

“We have a lot of work to do, we will do the best we can for the rest of the season.”


Russell ‘struggling to comprehend’ Merc woes 

George Russell, who qualified on pole last time out in Hungary, was just behind his Mercedes teammate in eighth. 

The Briton said he was “struggling to comprehend” how Mercedes’ fortunes have changed so dramatically in the space of two races. 

“It’s not just to Max, but we were six tenths behind the Alpines,” said Russell. 

“Always when the temperatures are cold, we struggle. We saw that in Imola this year and many other Fridays when it’s been a cool Friday. We just can’t seem to get the tyres working. 

“I’m confident we’ll have a lot more pace tomorrow compared to the Alpines and the McLarens and the Williams as well. But we’ll still probably half a second to a second behind Red Bull and Ferrari.” 

Russell believes Verstappen has the pace to win from 15th and conceded that Mercedes’ streak of consecutive podium finishes is likely to come to an end. 

“I think Max will probably still win the race,” he added. “I don’t know where he’s going to be starting, but the pace he’s got he’ll probably still win the race. 

“And Charles will come through, so I think it’s unlikely we’ll be on the podium tomorrow in all honesty. 

"We’ve still got Carlos and Checo there and Max is going to slice through the field pretty quickly. 

“We need to look overnight and try to understand it - qualifying is out of the way and that is our weak point - and try to be faster tomorrow.” 

Asked how the mood is within the team, Russell replied: “Not great because we want more than this. 

“Mercedes qualifying P7 and P8 is not where we want to be and we know that’s not where the car is. 

“We know we don’t have the fastest car, or the second fastest car, but we definitely have a car that is capable of more than P8 and P7. We’ve got work to do.”