Lewis Hamilton was disconsolate as he spoke of a need to again "rescue" his weekend following a dismal qualifying performance from Mercedes.
The Silver Arrows struggled for pace throughout qualifying at Imola and barely scraped through the first part of the session. George Russell was relatively safe in Q1, but Hamilton was only four thousandths of a second away from falling at the first hurdle for the second time already this season.
But Q3 was beyond both of them on Friday afternoon, as they failed to record a time fast enough to start Saturday's sprint race in the front half of the pack. Instead, Russell had to settle for 11th while Hamilton will be two places further back on the grid for the short-form race.
The result seemed to cause something of a spat between Hamilton and team boss Toto Wolff, as they were spotted on camera having a heated-looking exchange in the Mercedes garage. Later asked about what had happened, the seven-time world champion did not deny that it was an argument and simply said: "It's all internal stuff, so I'd rather not share that."
Hamilton was visibly glum as he faced the TV cameras to describe another underwhelming showing for himself and his team. "Naturally it's disappointing," he told Sky Sports . "We came here with optimism and everyone is working really hard at the factory, so when things don't come together it's disappointing.
"I think we underperformed as a team today. There are things that we should have done but we didn't do. We will work as hard as we can to move up in the sprint race – it will be a difficult race but hopefully tomorrow is better weather-wise and, who knows, maybe we can move our way forwards. We will just keep working hard… each weekend is a rescue."
Things might have improved for them slightly had it not been for a disrupted session. There were five red flags in qualifying overall as the drivers struggled with the changeable weather conditions in northern Italy, and one of them caused a delay which scuppered Mercedes' chances.
Neither Hamilton nor Russell got the chance to improve their times as one of the red flags led to a brief pause in the session, which turned out to be enough time for a wave of rain to sweep across the track. It was ill-timed, and neither driver even bothered to emerge from the pits again knowing they would not be able to set a faster time in worse track conditions than before.
Looking on the bright side, though, Russell was keen to point out that their starting position for Sunday's race might end up being a fair bit better. "We were always struggling a little bit to get temperature into the tyre," he said. "And we always seem to be taking a bigger jump from the second lap. We saw it in Australia as well where we were compared to the Alpines and the McLarens – they were a first-lap qualifier and we had to do it on the third lap.
"It was a bit of a shame with how the red flags panned out today, but if there is a weekend to not be where we want to be, a sprint weekend is the one to do it. So not ideal, but a chance to recover some positions tomorrow."
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