Lewis Hamilton arrived at the start of the 2023 season fired up and in combative mood. However, the combat he engaged in was with the technical engineers within his own Mercedes team.
Lewis and his team mate George Russell had suffered the apparent ignominy of an Aston Martin in the hands of a dazzling Fernando Alonso making memorable overtakes.
Wolff: “worst day in racing”
By comparison the works Mercedes W14 looked lacking in pace and Hamilton finished the race over fifty seconds behind the winning Red Bull of Max Verstappen.
Toto Wolff described the race as “one of the worst days in racing, really not good at all,” speaking to Sky Sports F1.
“We were just lacking pace front, right and centre.
“That’s a reflection of the tests because the Aston Martin is very fast, they deserve that. Red Bull is just on a different planet.”
Mercedes fail to close gap
Having dominated Formula One for almost a decade Mercedes had been shaken to their collective core by the woeful car they designed for 2022 and there was huge belief within the team that they had improved their design substantially over the winter.
Bahrain was the crushing realisation that the team had failed to close the gap on Red Bull and even been overtaken by a team finishing in seventh last year.
Hamilton was next to have his say, claiming he’d identified the areas of weakness with last seasons car but the technical team had refused to listen to him.
In what was described by many as an “heads must roll” rant, Lewis told the BBC:
Hamilton rants at his own team
“Last year, I told them the issues that are with the car. I’ve driven so many cars in my life, so I know what a car needs, I know what a car doesn’t need.”
“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.
He later elaborated that he believed the biggest weakness in the car was due to the driving position which he claimed to be way further forward than their competitors.
“We sit closer to the front wheels than all the other drivers,” said Hamilton. “Our cockpit is too close to the front.
“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.
Lewis claims seat position badly designed
Lewis concluded had he realised this was the deign for 2023 he wold have vetoed it whilst on the drawing board.
“And it has to change for the future. 100%,” the ex-world champion demanded.
However at the time a number of F1 technical analyst writers suggested Lewis was mistakenly linking the drivers’ position with the feel he has inside the car. In reality the problem was more likely to be with the rear instability of the Mercedes caused by the movement of the centre of pressure under breaking.
Mercedes kept their counsel whilst Lewis ranted at the team having realised he was to be competitive again for the 2023 season.
Mercedes side pods the problem
Having returned to his old technical director position last month, James Allison has come out defending the car design of his predecessor and states Lewis Hamilton’s analysis of the W14’s issues are just wrong.
Firstly Allison counters the claims that Mercedes’ recent ditching of their zero pod design towards a more Red Burlesque sidepod philosophy.
“Absolutely not,” he told Auto Motor und Sport. “Anything we changed on the car could have been done with the old sidepods.
“Our old sidepods were no more the reason for our problems than the geometry of the sidepods explaining Red Bull’s success,” claims Allison.
Allison: Hamilton WRONG about driving position
This begs the question why change them then? But Allison decides not to explain this. Allison goes on to address the focus of Hamilton’s “I told you so” rant about the positioning of the cockpit.
“Lewis doesn’t like the handling of the car, and he sits in a different position compared to before.
“But I’m not sure one is related to the other. I’ve had a few conversations with Lewis about it. And I don’t think the seating position is a big factor in the issues he’s feeling with the car.
Mercedes technical director in fact supports the previous views of F1’s technical writers.
‘Handling’ is Mercedes solution
“What he’s right about is his criticism of the handling of the car. It’s our job to fix that because that’s laptime.
“But if we change the seating position, it’s for many other reasons and not because we think that alone will solve all of Lewis’ problems.”
Red Bull recently suffered the humiliation of their RB19 being hoisted high in the sky y a Monaco crane following Sergio’s smash into the turn 1 barrier early in qualifying.
Much was made of the intricate underfloor airflow channels from the many pictures taken by F1 photographers.
Red Bull floor not their “secret”
“The secret to Red Bull’s success” read one headline, however Allison chooses to debunk this theory as well.
“We mostly saw that early in the season where they bottomed on the straights much earlier than other cars at certain tracks, but at the moment, we are no longer seeing that.”
The approach of Red Bull to in season car development this year has been to focus on setup and small incremental changes to the car rather than producing big upgrade weekends like Mercedes and Aston Martin.
“I keep saying it internally as well, but there’s no reason it shouldn’t happen this season as long as we’re able to keep improving our car,” argues Allison.
Hamilton more submissive as contract talks drag on
“The challenge is to do that and at the same time build up enough knowledge so that we can do it from the start of next season too.”
Allison unlike many at Mercedes is unafraid to take on the team’s critics and even Lewis Hamilton’s accusations.
Also of note is Hamilton’s demeanour has become progressively less aggressive and at times positively submissive as his contract negotiations have dragged on.
The talks over Lewis’ new deal were claimed by Wolff in January to be a matter of “a few hours together” now drag on into their seventh month.
— Formula 1 (@F1) June 28, 2023