Nico Rosberg has rubbed salt into Mercedes' wounds by branding their performance at the French Grand Prix so far a "big, big setback".
Rosberg, who won the 2016 F1 championship with the Silver Arrows, pulled no punches as he assessed the pace of the W13 following qualifying at Paul Ricard.
While Lewis Hamilton and George Russell qualified a respectable fourth and sixth respectively, they were well off the pace set by pole-sitter Charles Leclerc. Both Hamilton and team boss Toto Wolff have conceded the weekend has fallen well below expectations so far after a number of upgrades were added to the car.
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"This is a big blow for Mercedes," Rosberg told Sky Sports F1. "I think they came into this trying to be three tenths off pole position and really make another good step forward.
"And they're nine tenths to a second off, which is more than in the last couple of races, and with an upgrade package which they put so much hope on.
"That's not a good situation to be in and I'm sure they're scratching their heads. Did the upgrade package not work like they hoped it would? That's a tough one, but a big, big setback for Mercedes. Let’s see in the race. If they can be a bit closer there, it would give them a bit of hope."
Rosberg did at least reserve praise for his former friend turned foe Hamilton, adding: "Lewis did a fantastic job. He really dominated George in qualifying, keeping him at a distance always. Lewis was absolutely flying."
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The Mercedes were separated by Lando Norris, who again outplaced under-pressure teammate Daniel Ricciardo as he put his McLaren fifth on the grid. Rosberg believes Norris again proved he is a world champion in the making.
"Beating George in the Mercedes, what an incredible job by Lando. Again, distancing Ricciardo, although it was only one-and-a-half tenths in Q2," said Rosberg.
"And more than bashing Daniel, we should praise Lando, who is driving like a future world champion, driving so well. I think McLaren can feel very happy to have him on board and it seems like the upgrade package is working."
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