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Seven-time Champion Lewis Hamilton believes that Ferrari and Red Bull are ‘in their own league’

‘I can’t change that’: Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton believes Ferrari and Red Bull are ‘in their own league’ this season as the Mercedes driver prepares for his 300th start on Sunday

  • Lewis Hamilton believes rivals Ferrari and Red Bull are in a class of their own
  • Hamilton finished nine tenths of a second behind Charles Leclerc in qualifying
  • He will finish fourth in Sunday’s race with George Russell sixth
  • The seven-time champion starts his milestone 300th race in Sunday’s race

Lewis Hamilton said he is powerless to turn his decline into results after qualifying in a distant fourth place for his 300th Formula 1 race.

Hamilton and his Mercedes team arrived at Le Castellet for Sunday’s French Grand Prix with high hopes for a revival.

A number of updates to Hamilton’s Mercedes machine – coupled with the slick Circuit Paul Ricard tarmac – were expected to propel the Briton back into his signature appearance.

Lewis Hamilton had hoped for an improvement in the pace of his Mercedes car this weekend

Lewis Hamilton had hoped for an improvement in the pace of his Mercedes car this weekend

But Hamilton, 37, had to think about another sobering afternoon after finishing a stunning nine-tenths behind Ferrari’s pole-sitter Charles Leclerc.

Max Verstappen joins Leclerc on the front row, with Sergio Perez third in the other Red Bull.

Hamilton’s team-mate George Russell starts even further back in sixth place – 1.2 seconds off the pace – and is beaten by McLaren’s Lando Norris, who starts fifth.

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Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc took his seventh pole of the season from title rival Max Verstappen

“It’s not that it’s discouraging, but you do a lap and you’re told it’s 1.7 seconds and you think ‘what?’ said Hamilton.

“And then you do a really good lap and you’re 1.1 seconds away and you’re like ‘wow’. There is nothing I can do in my power to change that.

“Everyone is working as hard as they can. Every weekend we come up with little bits to try and improve, but sometimes that doesn’t make a difference and that is certainly difficult for everyone.

Leclerc faces a tough challenge from the Red Bulls with Sergio Perez in third place

Leclerc faces a tough challenge from the Red Bulls with Sergio Perez in third place

“The two best teams are in their own league. I came here this weekend hoping we’d be within three-tenths of them, and we’ll be back in a second. If it becomes something like that, it will be a while before we win, but it’s not impossible.’

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, who was joined by Dieter Zetsche – the former chairman of Mercedes’ parent Daimler – in the back of the team’s garage, cut a largely desolate figure.

Wolff has overseen Mercedes’ remarkable record run of eight consecutive Constructors’ Championships – but as the sport approaches its traditional summer break, the once all-conquering team is no closer to unlocking the speed to allow them to compete with Ferrari and Red Bull .

But Hamilton finished fourth and will be disappointed with the big gap to Ferrari driver Leclerc

But Hamilton finished fourth and will be disappointed with the big gap to Ferrari driver Leclerc

“There were good signs at Silverstone and then we went to Austria – a circuit where we are normally not competitive and we could clearly see the signs of why we were not competitive – but we were close,” said Wolff.

“We were three tenths behind in qualifying and that was acceptable. So we brought a nice update package to Paul Ricard. The track is slick, there we go, and then boom, no performance, and we can’t figure out what went wrong. That’s a bit of a slap in the face.’

Hamilton will only become the sixth F1 driver to start 300 races when the lights go out on Sunday.

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Max Verstappen star saw his lead fall to 38 points after Leclerc’s win in Austria two weeks ago

The seven-time world champion, who is already 99 points behind Verstappen in the standings, has 18 months to complete his Mercedes deal. Will the Briton reach the 400 Grands Prix?

“We talked a few weeks ago about how long our partnership could last and the number discussed was five to ten years, so we can get to 400,” Wolff joked.

Away from Mercedes’ troubles, Leclerc captured his seventh pole of the season to build on his comprehensive win in Austria.

Carlos Sainz and Ferrari must accept a 10-place grid penalty after taking new engine parts

Carlos Sainz and Ferrari must accept a 10-place grid penalty after taking new engine parts

Mercedes rookie driver Nyck de Vries took the cockpit during the first practice and finished ninth

Mercedes rookie driver Nyck de Vries took the cockpit during the first practice and finished ninth

With teammate Carlos Sainz starting last – penalized for replacing the engine that so spectacularly caught fire at the Red Bull Ring a fortnight ago – Ferrari used the Spaniard as a tow to pull Leclerc forward. It worked out really well with Leclerc rushing into first place, beating Verstappen by three tenths.

“It was a great lap,” said the Monegask. “I struggled all weekend to put together a lap, but I managed.

“I also had the help of Carlos and that was great teamwork because without him it would have been much closer, so a huge thank you to him and I hope he can get into the fight.”

Fernando Alonso is the only other active Formula 1 driver to have made 300 starts

Fernando Alonso is the only other active Formula 1 driver to have made 300 starts

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