Hamilton predicts "easy cruise win" for Verstappen in Austria

Lewis Hamilton is focusing on damage limitation after qualifying fourth for the Austrian Grand Prix, predicting an "easy cruise win" for Formula 1 title rival and pole-sitter Max Verstappen.

Hamilton had hoped to cut the gap to Red Bull after Mercedes was handed a drubbing in last Sunday's Styrian Grand Prix, failing to put up a fight at the front for victory as Hamilton spent every lap of the race in second place.

But qualifying for the second race at the Red Bull Ring saw Hamilton struggle to fourth place as Verstappen took his third pole position in a row for Red Bull.

McLaren's Lando Norris took a surprise second place on the grid, while Verstappen's Red Bull teammate, Sergio Perez, will start third.

"It's even more of a challenge than it was already last week, and [we] continue to lack pace," Hamilton said. "I tried everything to get more out of the car. It's just the underlying pace, that's where we're at, at the moment. So we've got to really find performance in the following races.

"I don't know if McLaren have brought an upgrade, but they're mega quick today, so great job from Lando. We've just got to try and improve."

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Pole for Verstappen gives the Red Bull driver a chance to extend his 18-point lead at the top of the drivers' championship, while the team could also stretch out its 40-point advantage over Mercedes in the constructors' standings.

Hamilton felt he was losing "just a little bit everywhere" compared to Verstappen's pole lap, and felt that a recovery to victory was definitely out of the question for Mercedes.

"In terms of pure pace, it's definitely out of the question," Hamilton said. "Those guys firstly have got two cars to get by in front, and they've got three tenths on us, I think they've improved their car again this weekend.

"I would say that's an easy cruise win for Max. I think for us, it's to try and see if we can get ahead of at least Perez, and try to limit the damage this weekend."

Valtteri Bottas qualified fifth in the sister Mercedes car, and admitted after the session that he had expected to be closer to Red Bull for outright pace.

"Yes - in fact, we went a little bit backwards from last weekend or others [gained] more than us," Bottas said. "I would say maybe a tenth or two we're missing where we should have been. So I don't know if it's because of the C5 compound, or clearly McLaren has found something.

"That's where the pace of the car was today."

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