How the mighty have fallen. Formula One’s 7 times champion, Lewis Hamilton, has now been out qualified by his Mercedes junior team mate George Russell for 3 race weekends in a row. Lewis was again slower than Russell by over 0.2s in qualifying for the 2022 Azerbaijan GP.
The season count for qualifying now sees Russell 5-3 ahead of Mercedes No.1 driver for 8 seasons and a whopping 34 points clear of Lewis in the drivers championship table.
Russell claimed after qualifying the Mercedes W13 car is closer in 1 lap pace to the back of the grid than it is to the pole position times being set by Ferrari and Red Bull drivers.
The reality of Mercedes woes means even with 16 races to go, Lewis has an uphill struggle to catch and finish ahead of his team mate in the driver rankings this season.
There are persistent questions for Wolff to answer from the paddock F1 reporters as to why newbie George Russell is comprehensively outperforming his senior team mate in the same W13 car.
Wolff went to extreme lengths following the race in Imola to excuse Hamilton’s non-point scoring performance when Russell had finished a credible P4 after starting in 11th place.
Over pit radio following the chequered flag, the Mercedes boss said, “Lewis, hi, Sorry for what you have needed to drive today. I know this is undriveable.”
Given Russell’s P4, this declaration from Mercedes team boss merely drove speculation that Hamilton was feeling so low he needed a boost from his team boss.
Following Baku qualifying, Wolff was excusing Hamilton again when he was asked for the reason Russell was quicker over one lap than Lewis over the past race weekends.
“I think it’s too early to try to identify a pattern because I’m very close to it and I see that one session one is faster and the next session the other one is faster,” said Wolff.
Hamilton was quicker than Russell in Q2, but only because the team instructed George to give Lewis a ‘tow’ when he was in peril of making it into final qualifying.
The reality is in Wolffs claim about his drivers that ‘one session, one is faster and the next session the other one is faster’ is utter rubbish.
In the last 19 on track F1 non-race sessions, Hamilton has finished ahead of Russel in just 5.
The Mercedes’ boss post Baku qualifying was asked to explain the disparity between his drivers. The Austrian replied, “Because the car is on a knife’s edge if you put a foot wrong in terms of experiments on the car, which need to be done in order for us to actually learn how to perform, where to put the car, there’s two or three tenths immediately between them.
“The last three races these experiments have gone wrong with Lewis and not with George.”
Hamilton’s car is in a different specification again this weekend”, said Wolff.
“Lewis has been trying some experimental parts of the car. There was a different floor solution on his car that didn’t work.
“The car was porpoising more and bottoming out to a degree that it became dangerous and couldn’t extract the performance. So, yes, it was a different spec.”
Whilst this sounds like a worthy explanation – Lewis being the team’s development driver. Presumably because his vast experience will be the key to unlock the performance capabilities of the W13 car.
However, this is simply untrue.
‘Experimental parts’ are also known as “upgrades” and it is the F1 team’s No.1 driver who usually receives these first. Ask Mark Webber.
So in reality Wolff appears to be still patronising Lewis Hamilton with his spin explanations presumably because he feels Hamilton may be too fragile to accept the fact he is significantly slower and performing far worse than his team mate.
His team mate for the record has only ever previously experienced driving the worst car on the F1 grid.