Hamilton admits Mercedes 'not where it wants to be' in Sochi

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"Naturally they're faster than us and I think Charles has done a good job but in terms of being close to the limit as possible, I have been getting more and more comfortable in the auto in the second half of the season, a little bit more comfortable even though we've lost a bit of performance compared to them. The last couple of races we've been with them, and I hope tomorrow we can really give them a good fight". Now we have to try and convert that split into something even better.

In a fascinating additional twist for the race on Sunday from 12.10pm, Hamilton will start on the more durable medium tyres for the race's first stint, whereas the Ferraris are on the fater but more fragile softs.

"If we get the vehicle in the right position in qualifying and then qualify in the right position, we have been stronger generally in most of the races. It's a track where the rears are struggling a little bit in the last sector, so you need to maybe compromise it a bit in the first sector to be better in the third sector, and we are struggling to find the balance in that". It's a shame for Valtteri because he was on a good lap too before he aborted.

Lewis Hamilton has sounded his concerns about Formula 1's direction in 2021 and criticised the process of deciding them.

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"In my opinion, the reverse starting position is an excuse - because they don't dare make any decisions", said five-time world champion Hamilton on the sidelines of the Russian Grand Prix this weekend.

The big anomaly in Russian Federation is that Ferrari's long-run pace also looks good.

And while Ferrari brought aerodynamic upgrades to their vehicle at Singapore, Hamilton insisted there isn't a short-term fix Mercedes can apply to close the gap this weekend.

"The vehicle felt incredible". "It was important that, yes, it is true we did a fantastic quali in Singapore with the new aero package, but I think it was important to confirm how good was the package coming here on a different type of track and different type of set-up".

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The other Honda-engined drivers - Verstappen, Albon and Toro Rosso's Pierre Gasly - also have grid penalties, but only drop five places. "I think the reversed grid is a bit desperate - and I don't think we're in a desperate time at all".

"Generally speaking, quite happy, at least for today".

For neutral fans, the main positive to be drawn from Friday is that the closing margins at the front bode well for the upcoming races - not to mention the 2020 season.

Hamilton said he remained amazed at Ferrari's power and speed on the straights.

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