The 2023 Formula One season is beginning to take shape. With three races down a pecking order is beginning to emerge and one that looks somewhat different to that following the drama’s of Bahrain qualifying.
An exasperated Toto Wolff declared enough was enough and the philosophy adopted by Mercedes’ technical team to evolve the W13 was “never going to be competitive.”
Hamilton’s rant calls for heads to roll
Lewis Hamilton waded in apparently looking for self justification with his ‘they didn’t listen to me’ rant about over the design characteristics of the Mercedes car.
“Last year, I told them the issues that are with the car,” bemoaned Hamilton.
“Like, I’ve driven so many cars in my life, so I know what a car needs, I know what a car doesn’t need.”
Hamilton’s subsequent comments appeared to sound like he was calling for heads at Brackley to roll.
“And I think it’s really about accountability, it’s about owning up and saying ‘yeah, you know what, we didn’t listen to you, it’s not where it needs to be and we’ve got to work’.”
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Mercedes W14 is no disaster
Next time out in Jeddah at the drivers’ press conference, a chastened Hamilton rowed back on his views conceding, “In hindsight, I think looking back, it wasn’t necessarily the best choice of words.”
Despite Toto’s requiem for the W14 the Mercedes drivers have qualified P6, P7 – P4, P8 then in Australia P2, P3.
More importantly Mercedes now sit third in the constructors table. Their 56 points sees them just 10 points behind Aston Martin but a surprising 30 points ahead of Ferrari.
Ferrari’s points woes are in part due to Charles LeClerc chalking up two DNF’s in 3 races. However, their qualifying prowess together with race pace has been severely lacking when compared to Mercedes so with or without the retirements P4 is where Ferrari should be.
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Engineer claims Hamilton “exaggerates”
F1 engineer Ernest Knoors claims Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton in particular are “exaggerating” their self declared crisis.
Further, Toto Wolff’s decision to ‘scrap’ the current design may have been due to significant pre-season displeasure expressed by Lewis Hamilton over the direction of the W14 design.
This would explain the Hamilton ‘they didn’t listen’ rant and the ease of Wolff’s capitulation to scrap the current design.
Knoors explains to Motorsport.nl: “Mercedes naturally thought: ‘We will be fighting for the championship again this year.’”
“Hamilton also wants to be ahead of Russell within that team, but this is not what happened.”
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Russell easily beating Hamilton
Despite leading Russell by 20 points after three races, Hamilton once considered the ace over one lap has been beaten 3-0 in the qualifying sessions by his team mate.
Further, the points would be close between the Mercedes pair without Russell who led the race suffering a mechanical failure and scoring a DNF in Australia.
Doors continues, “I think that’s why Hamilton also said: ‘We are in crisis.’”
“I always thought that was a bit of an exaggeration, he said that after Bahrain and yes, Bahrain was bad…”
“…but in Saudi Arabia and especially in this race [Australia] you saw that the Mercedes is not yet at the level of Red Bull, but it is good is.”
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Reliability a potential concern
Reliability may be one area of concern for Mercedes concedes Koors.
“It is worrying that Russell is dropping out with reliability problems. That was of course a strong point of them last season.”
“They barely had any technical breakdowns, right up to the very end [of the year] except for once with Lewis.”
“Now they have something that breaks. That might be more of a concern than the pace they said they would miss.”
“I actually think that the crisis was exaggerated a bit by Wolff and Hamilton. Maybe it was more that Hamilton was not feeling good than that the car was really bad.”
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Hamilton “crisis” over immovable seat position
Hamilton added to the “crisis” rhetoric in Australia when he went to lengths to explain how the engineers have mispositioned the driver seating position adding “100%” it needs to be changed.
“We sit closer to the front wheels than all the other drivers,” explained Hamilton. “Our cockpit is too close to the front.”
However, Sky pundit Karen Chandhok revealed using images of the cars, that the Mercedes driver position is similar to both Ferrari and Aston Martin. Only the Red Bull drivers actually sit significantly further back.
“When you’re driving, you feel like you’re sitting on the front wheels which is one of the worst feelings to feel when you’re driving a car,” added Lewis.
“So, what that does is it just really changes the attitude of the car and how you perceive its movement. And it makes it harder to predict, compared to when you’re further back and you’re sitting closer, more centre.
“It’s just something I’ve really struggled with.”
“And it has to change for the future. 100%.”
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Button explains Hamilton’s issues
This could well be the battle Lewis has been fighting behind the scenes and is determined to win. However, to change the driver positioning in the FIA tested monocoque requires a B-Spec chassis to be developed, something both Toto and Lewis have revealed is outside their capabilities because of the spending cap.
Jenson Button who was Lewis’ team mate for three years at McLaren explained Hamilton’s complaints from a driver’s perspective.
“It’s [to do] with what he’s not feeling,” said Button. “I think that’s the biggest problem with Lewis.”
“The way he drives, he’s quite aggressive on the throttle, quite aggressive on the brake and he does everything through the steering wheel, so he really needs to feel what’s happening through the rear of the car through his arms.”
“And he’s not getting that so he doesn’t have that confidence to push the car and these cars are tricky anyway, especially in qualifying, and if he doesn’t have that confidence, he’s not able to get the maximum out of it.”
Russell drives around the problems
However, George Russell clearly doesn’t mind the driver positioning within the cockpit which is similar to the Ferrari and Aston Martin’s.
Williams team member Dave Roberts explains why Russell ma be finding it easier than Hamilton.
“The most important thing is that George is able to adapt,” said Robson.
“He drives quite instinctively and I think he continues to improve. He has that talent.”
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Has Lewis issues a “contract ultimatum”?
Mercedes have a tough call to make and this may be having an impact on the lack of progress in Lewis Hamilton’s contract talks.
Do the team comply with Hamilton’s insistence that “100%” they change their car philosophy going forward?
Or do they see Russell as the future?
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Will the W14 now be saved?
The W14 looks way more competitive than Wolff and Hamilton first suggested back in Bahrain. It was clear in Australia for lap after lap the car was as good as the Aston Martin as Hamilton held at bay the charging Fernando Alonso until the chequered flag.
Hamilton will argue the design should change if the team is to challenge the Red Bull’s.
Yet Mike Elliot and his team now have evidence their current design has merit and with the upgrades planned for the W14 arriving for round 6, this may become a battle which Lewis Hamilton does not win.
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Whoa, that was close! 😮
A slow-moving formation lap at the first restart caught several drivers off guard #AusGP #F1 pic.twitter.com/zTvBhgk3u4
— Formula 1 (@F1) April 4, 2023