Hamilton struggles with Mercedes W14 car
Lewis Hamilton struggles with lack of confidence in Mercedes’ W14 car while Russell seems to have a better handle on it, leading to differences in performance.
Lewis Hamilton currently holds a two-point advantage over George Russell as the better-positioned Mercedes Formula 1 driver in the world championship before the upcoming Australian Grand Prix. Furthermore, the team is coming off a successful outing at the Saudi Arabian GP, where they exceeded expectations by securing top-five finishes and outpacing Ferrari.
Interestingly, in the recent Saudi Arabian GP, it was George Russell who finished ahead of Lewis Hamilton, which is a notable occurrence given Hamilton’s public display of frustration with the performance of the W14 car.
Moreover, Russell has outperformed Hamilton in qualifying sessions thus far in the season, having bested him in both Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
It is unclear why the issues with the W14 car are impacting Hamilton more than Russell. While the qualifying gap between the two drivers was minimal in Bahrain, it was considerably wider at the Jeddah circuit where Hamilton was over three-and-a-half tenths of a second slower than Russell.
Further analysis and investigation into the performance of the car and the driving styles of both Hamilton and Russell may provide more insight into this discrepancy.
According to reports, the significant gap between Hamilton and Russell’s qualifying times in the Saudi Arabian GP was mainly due to Hamilton’s difficulties with balance and grip in the first sector of the circuit.
Hamilton expressed his frustration with the car’s performance and his own lack of connection with it, stating to media outlets like F1Lead after Q3 that he could not regain confidence in the car, no matter what changes were made. His demeanor after qualifying suggested a sense of disappointment and dejection.
It appears that the primary issue with the Mercedes W14 car is a lack of downforce, which has resulted in rear-end instability. During practice sessions in Saudi Arabia, the team struggled to find the right balance, initially experiencing issues with a weak front end before overcompensating with too much front downforce.
This created a “pointy” feel to the car, which Hamilton described over the radio as “not safe.” The difficulty in finding the correct balance and downforce levels for both drivers may be contributing to Hamilton’s struggles and lack of confidence in the car.
During the qualifying session, the primary source of the time difference between Hamilton and Russell was the first left/right section of the circuit. Russell appeared to be more confident and able to turn-in more effectively, while Hamilton struggled with getting the nose of the car in and had to be more cautious.
This difficulty with turn-in and the lack of confidence in the car’s balance and grip may be contributing to Hamilton’s struggles with the W14 car.
Andrew Shovlin, the trackside engineering director for Mercedes, has confirmed that there were slight variations in the set-ups of the cars during the Saudi Arabian GP, specifically in how the mechanical balance changes around the circuit.
These changes were made to address what he referred to as “poor rear grip” on long runs during Friday’s practice sessions. While the set-ups were not drastically different between Hamilton and Russell’s cars, these small variations may have contributed to the differences in their performances during the weekend.
Shovlin’s statement about the car’s “entry stability” aligns with the challenges that Hamilton faced in qualifying and the strengths that Russell demonstrated in dealing with them.
The W14 car’s lack of stability upon entry to corners may have been the primary factor in Hamilton’s struggles with turn-in and lack of confidence in the car’s balance and grip. In contrast, Russell appeared to be better able to handle these challenges, particularly on a fast and challenging circuit that rewards confidence.
These factors may have contributed to Russell outperforming Hamilton in qualifying at the Saudi Arabian GP.
Hamilton was able to secure a stronger finish than Russell in the Bahrain GP, thanks in part to his advantageous start position, ultimately finishing fourth while Russell finished sixth. In contrast, Russell outperformed Hamilton in the Saudi Arabian GP, responding to a mid-race challenge from Hamilton and edging ahead to finish five seconds ahead of him.
These contrasting performances between the two drivers in different races may reflect the specific challenges posed by each circuit and the differing strengths and weaknesses of the W14 car.
Hamilton stated after the Saudi Arabian GP that he and Russell had made different choices on a “50-50” decision regarding the car’s set-up. Hamilton believed he made the wrong choice while Russell chose the correct direction.
Hamilton acknowledged that, more often than not, the direction that Russell chose would be the incorrect one, but in this instance, it worked to his advantage. Hamilton struggled with understeer during his first stint but experienced improvements in the car’s performance after switching to softer tyres following his pit stop.
These differing strategies and results reflect the challenges and complexities involved in making effective set-up decisions for the W14 car.
Hamilton further elaborated that the W14 car is easier to drive in race conditions compared to qualifying, explaining that the car feels “on a massive knife edge” when being driven at or above 95% of its capabilities.
However, he noted that the car is more controllable and predictable in race trim. Despite this, Hamilton still experiences a lack of confidence in the car’s performance during races, which may be contributing to his struggles in some instances.
The intricacies of managing the W14 car’s performance and stability at different levels of intensity and over different race conditions can be challenging for drivers to navigate.
Hamilton attributed his lack of confidence in the W14 car’s performance during races to the car’s lack of rear downforce.
However, he also cryptically hinted at another issue with the car that he has never experienced in his career before, which is causing him discomfort. He did not provide any further details regarding this issue but expressed a desire to work with the team to address it.
The nature of this issue and its impact on Hamilton’s confidence and performance remain unclear, and further analysis and investigation may be required to address and resolve it.
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It is understandable that Hamilton may be frustrated with the performance of the W14 car, particularly given his expectations of being in the title hunt for the 2023 season. The car’s lack of pace compared to Red Bull may be contributing to his difficulties in coming to terms with its performance and capabilities.
Historically, when faced with similar situations, it has taken Hamilton some time to adjust to the car and prepare for a long and challenging season. Even in some of his championship-winning seasons, he has faced similar issues, and his former teammate Valtteri Bottas has sometimes been able to close the gap between them when Hamilton was not fully comfortable with the car.
These factors suggest that Hamilton may need some time to adapt to the W14 car and find his rhythm and confidence on the track.
As a 38-year-old driver, Hamilton is aware that his opportunities to win an eighth world championship are limited, and this may be adding to his frustration with the W14 car’s performance. His demeanor outside of the car may reflect this, and it is possible that he is exaggerating his discomfort with the car.
Meanwhile, Russell is also facing frustrations with the car’s performance, but he is taking a different approach, trying to emerge as a leader for the team. He has expressed satisfaction with the car and is working hard to push the team forward and contribute to its development.
These differing attitudes and approaches may reflect the different stages of the drivers’ careers and their individual perspectives on the challenges facing the team.
Russell’s approach of working harder than ever to push the team forward and contribute to its development may benefit him in the long-term.
This may involve more simulator work and a focus on the team’s performance over multiple seasons, rather than just the current year. Additionally, Russell’s driving style, which emphasizes precision and subtle inputs to keep the car calm, may be particularly well-suited to maximizing the Mercedes’ single-lap pace.
This combination of hard work and driving style may enable Russell to emerge as a leader for the team and help him achieve his long-term goals for the team’s performance.
While it is not expected that Hamilton’s situation will be significantly improved at the upcoming Australian Grand Prix, the track configuration of Albert Park is more similar to Sakhir than Jeddah, which may be more favorable for Hamilton’s driving style and the current performance of the Mercedes car.
In last year’s race in Australia, Hamilton had a slight edge over his teammate Bottas, but there was little to choose between them. It is worth noting that Hamilton faced similar struggles early in the 2022 season, but once the car was sorted out, he was often slightly stronger than his teammate Russell in the second half of the season.
As such, it is premature to write off Hamilton’s chances, and he may be able to improve his performance and close the gap with Russell as the season progresses.
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