SILVERSTONE, U.K. -- For three practice sessions and a good part of qualifying, it looked like Lewis Hamilton might put himself on the front row of the grid Sunday for the British Grand Prix at Silverstone.
New upgrades on both Mercedes cars had yielded a step forward in dry conditions relative to rivals Red Bull and Ferrari, and with a capacity crowd braving a typical Silverstone rainstorm during qualifying, the stage seemed set for some Hamilton magic.
Yet the final qualifying result saw Hamilton drop back into Mercedes' now familiar 2022 territory: fifth place and over 0.8s off the pace.
The good news for driver and team is that there was a very clear reason. The bad news is that it represents a missed opportunity on a track that clearly suits Mercedes.
The usual tactic in a wet qualifying session is to continue lapping at high speed in the hope track conditions improve and the lap time comes down. But setting fast lap after fast lap after fast lap means there is no chance to charge the power unit's hybrid system for maximum power deployment on any single lap.
Mercedes decided that by backing off on Hamilton's penultimate lap he would have a chance to charge the battery to the maximum and then use a more powerful power unit setting on his final attempt. The only problem was that the rain intensified during the penultimate lap, meaning Hamilton couldn't hook up a faster lap with the extra battery power when it mattered.
"I was really, really so hopeful because we have this incredible crowd and all of a sudden I was in the fight," Hamilton said. "It was feeling great. I was like, 'I can definitely go quicker than that,' I think I was two tenths up and then they said back off [on my penultimate lap] and go again. But the next lap wasn't as good.
"We wanted to go to a more 'racey' power mode for the final lap and charge the battery. As we did that it rained a little bit more on the final lap."
Ultimately, the gamble didn't pay off but Mercedes was still buoyed by its overall performance in qualifying at Silverstone.
"Quali was looking OK until the last laps," Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said. "I believe that we had a car that was good enough for the front row or maybe top three, but in the end it didn't come together at all. Therefore I am pretty disappointed with the result because I believe we could have gone faster."
Failing to deliver is always disappointing for an F1 team, but compared with Mercedes' season to date, the Saturday disappointment is easier to swallow.
"To be honest, it wouldn't be anywhere near the frustration we would be feeling if we brought a load of parts and felt like we went backwards," head of trackside engineering Andrew Shovlin said. "The thing that worries us is not having a development direction.
"Our race pace was OK on Friday [during simulations in practice] and I think we made a step forward overnight but it remains to be seen where we end up tomorrow. It should be a fun race for us if we can at least keep up with the Red Bulls and the Ferraris for once."
Hamilton remains determined to put on a show for his home crowd, even if a win from fifth on the grid seems like a long shot.
"I don't know if we can challenge for a win," he added. "The Red Bulls are so quick.
"They are pulling away on the straights at the moment and in the high speed corners where we are bouncing.
"Our race pace for a little bit looked better yesterday. Maybe they are still ahead, but I am hoping we are a little bit closer than the last race.
"If we are and I can somehow hold on to them maybe somehow I can progress. I will be aggressive tomorrow."