What is behind Hamilton’s worst start to an F1 season?


After three races in 2024, Lewis Hamilton finds himself in 10th place in the drivers’ championship on a measly eight points.

Hamilton is on a bad run of results, with his last podium in Mexico City in 2023, beginning a run of six grands prix in which he has failed to finish higher than seventh, the worst run of his career.

In the Australian Grand Prix, a rare Mercedes engine failure saw him retire after just 16 laps, the culmination of a wretched weekend in which he was knocked out in Q2 for his worst Albert Park grid spot since 2010.

The seven-time champion’s time at Mercedes appears to be coming to a close with a whimper rather than the bang the most successful driver-team partnership in F1 history deserves, but what is going on?

What’s gone wrong for Hamilton?

Hamilton’s driving style demands a lot of the rear of the car, with an aggressive turn-in and braking phase on corner entry.

This places a lot of demand in that area, with a stable rear-end key to enable him to find lap time.

The style demands the aero-load of the car being moved as far as possible, but if the rear is unstable, Hamilton’s preferences are stymied and he is then forced to adapt to what the limits of the car are as opposed to his own.

According to team principal Toto Wolff, the W15 has a “fundamental” problem in high-speed corners, with Hamilton complaining throughout the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix weekend of a lack of rear stability through sector one.

Mercedes is a team struggling with its third attempt at ground-effect machinery, with the team still not quite understanding how to extract performance from the delicate balance that must be struck with the floor and underbody.

This stems from the 2022 decision to go with the zero sidepods concept, with the simulation figures the team was seeing providing outstanding figures and being duped into believing them, only to be exposed during pre-season testing with porpoising.

Toward the end of 2022, Wolff was bullish the team would be backfiring in 2023 after identifying the problem with the floor, but again the team missed the mark by doubling down on the flawed sidepods concept for 2023.

James Allison was at pains to point out after his return to the technical director role in spring 2023 that the zero sidepods design was not the main problem with the car, instead that the architecture of the machine was more at fault, so becoming the defining image of the Mercedes downfall.

Constricted by the cost cap regulations, this flawed architecture was locked in for 2023, with Hamilton having a particular gripe at the position of the cockpit being too far forward.

This was a consequence of the zero sidepod design, but Mercedes was unable to change that in-season meaning Hamilton’s concerns, and his need to feel what the rear of the car was doing, could only be solved with the 2024 W15, the first true Mercedes of the ground-effect era to be designed around what might be termed as ‘conventional sidepods.’

In the past, Hamilton has been able to drag underperforming cars to race wins, such as the poor 2009 McLaren that he hauled to two victories after a major upgrade.

The W15 is currently in a similar situation – by no means a bad car but one which is seriously underperforming.

At present, Hamilton does not have confidence in what is under him and his unique driving style is being hamstrung, leaving him unable to unlock the performance he has only been able to show in flashes, but which cannot be accessed on a consistent basis.



Source

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *