In what was expected to be a promising weekend for Mercedes at the 2023 Mexican Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton was left bitterly disappointed with the performance of his car after qualifying in sixth place.
After initially looking promising with P1 and P3 in the second segment of Formula One qualifying, Hamilton and team-mate George Russell found themselves behind when it mattered most.
Not up to speed
Hamilton was blunt about the car’s lacklustre performance, stating, “We’re just not that fast!”
The seven-time world champion found little comfort in the Mercedes W14 throughout the weekend, admitting,
“It’s a nightmare to drive. The car just doesn’t like this track.”
Hamilton suggested that the team’s performance in Austin was an “outlier”, possibly due to the car’s lower ground clearance. But in Mexico, the W14 was temperamental, “bitchy” and “pretty sharp”, according to Hamilton.
“Sometimes the car works, sometimes it doesn’t. I just couldn’t get more out of it!”
He finished sixth with a time of 1:17.454 minutes, almost three tenths of a second behind the leader and two positions ahead of teammate Russell, who was just over half a second behind with a time of 1:17.674 minutes.
Data suggests Mercedes slow in chicanes
Data analysis highlighted where Mercedes lost time during the qualifying laps. According to the data, Hamilton dropped significantly in the second chicane, losing six-tenths of a second that he couldn’t make up later in the lap. Compared to Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who qualified on pole, Hamilton and other rivals such as Carlos Sainz and Max Verstappen lost ground in the slow sectors.
Hamilton’s team-mate George Russell was more fortunate in the second chicane, but still couldn’t make up enough ground to qualify eighth.
Russell puzzled by W14 pace
Russell also blames this on the W14 and its behavior on the racetrack: “In the third free practice session we were fastest and had really good pace. But in Q1 I had no grip and we were far away…”
In Q2 the car felt OK again: “It was normal and we were fast. And in Q3 the exact same thing happened again.”
Team Principal Toto Wolff attributed the unexpected performance to the Pirelli tyres, explaining the difficulty in getting them to warm up correctly to achieve optimum lap times.
“You can hardly calculate it, the tyres are so fragile. And whoever gets it right is quick,” said Wolff.
According to Wolff, Ferrari outperformed Mercedes in the warm-up laps, giving their drivers the grip they needed in the first sector. Mercedes, on the other hand, struggled to find the “sweet spot”, resulting in disappointing lap times.
Last-minute adjustments and future prospects
Both Hamilton and Russell pointed out that the team made adjustments right up to the final moments of qualifying. While the changes made Hamilton happier with the car, they were not enough to deliver the expected performance.
Andrew Shovlin, Mercedes’ trackside engineering director, echoed the general sentiment, describing the result as “disappointing” given the progress the team had made on Friday. As for race-day expectations, Hamilton held out little hope, pointing out:
“It’s not going to be easy with this car…” lamented the British driver.
No penalties for Hamilton and Russell
Adding to the drama of the weekend, both Hamilton and Russell faced potential penalties for separate incidents, but were ultimately cleared by the stewards.
Hamilton came under scrutiny for allegedly ignoring a yellow flag, but was found not to have broken the rules. Similarly, Russell was accused of holding up other drivers at the pit exit, but was also cleared.
As Mercedes look ahead to a “challenging race day”, the team’s focus is clear, in Wolff’s words: “To move forward from our starting positions”.
The team’s struggles in Mexico have undoubtedly magnified the challenges ahead as they attempt to regain their former glory, which appears to be somewhat of a slow process.
MORE F1 NEWS: Bizarre claim from Toto Wolff
The FIA has had a relatively quite season this year in terms of controversial decisions. In terms of uproar, nothing quite compares with the Michael Massi adjudication in 2021 at the final event of the year when he forced a final lap shootout between Hamilton and Verstappen.
Yet last time out in Austin, both Jewish Hamilton and Charles Leclerc were disqualified from their finishing positions in the Grand Prix because their cars did not have…READ MORE ON THIS STORY