sabato, Marzo 2, 2024

Hamilton on board analysis – damaged floor and problematic tyre management

We are nearing the most crucial phase of the season. It is at this moment that the fate of the 2021 World Championship is decided. Lewis Hamilton arrives at the Austrian Grand Prix with a not yet alarming gap in the standings. But what worries Brackley’s outfit is rather the technical deficit that the W12 is paying compared to the Red Bull, whose performance seems to grow from race to race. Seven days after the Styrian GP, the story hasn’t changed. Indeed, in hindsight, things have even gotten worse, as a second and third place in qualifying turned into a fourth and fifth place. Undoubtedly, this is a staggering involution. After the checkered flag, the situation for Hamilton has become even more complex, unless an exogenous factor does not intervene to break the inertia that pushes Red Bull towards winning the world championship title.

Let’s see how the GP of the reigning world champion went. 

A total of 71 laps has to be completed. The sky is cloudy, so the air (21 ° C) and track (35 ° C) temperatures are cooler than when the starting grid was decided. In addition, a night rain cleared the asphalt from the rubber. These conditions can actually cause tyre graining, hence managing the tyres is crucial. 

Hamilton fits a set of medium tires (C4) for his first stint. The analysis begins, as usual, with the countdown preceding the formation lap.

The relatively low temperatures imply that drivers have to be very precise in managing the tyres during the formation lap. Then Hamilton starts zig-zaging to warm up his front tyres. On the main straight he proceeds with some burnouts to raise the temperature of the rears, which play a decisive role at the start.

The #44 Mercedes is placed on his grid slot on the right-hand side and Peter Bonnington opens the radio for the communication that actually starts the race: “Last car approaching the grid“. Let’s focus on what is one of the most critical moments of any race. Hamilton’s start is very clean and in line with that of those who precede him. But, thanks to a relatively short straight, he does not have the opportunity to attack. 

At Turn 1 the distance from Perez’s Red Bull is not enough to strike up an assault. But, in the next section, thanks also to the slipstream, the Mercedes manages to get close to the Mexican. Lewis moves round the outside, half of his car is side to side with Perez, but the  braking of the former Racing Point driver is very long. This allows him to keep the position, preventing Hamilton from replicating his attack. Halfway through the lap, the positions are settled: Verstappen, Norris, Perez, Hamilton, Bottas and so on.

At the end of the first lap, due to an incident involving Esteban Ocon, the Safety Car is deployed.

At the restart, here comes the second key moment that can stand for a turning point in Hamilton’s race. Verstappen compresses the pack drastically and shows no sign of restarting before the end of the lap. It is only on the main straight that he will push the gas pedal to the max. It’s the third lap. Perez and Norris start causing mayhem ahead of Hamilton, as they engage in a fiery battle. 

But let’s go back for a second, analysing the moment when Bono warns that the SC is about to end. Shortly before, he reminds his driver of the “Magic” mode. The Baku fail is still alive in the memory of the men of the team and they obviously want to avoid any further problems.

As for the first and the second sector, Lewis is attentive and reads Verstappen’s moves almost anticipating his restart. He thus manages to join the PerezNorris duo when the monitors indicate green flag.

At Turn 1 Lewis, despite having more speed offering the sensation of overtaking Perez with ease, remains stranded behind Norris, who covers the inside so as not to let the Mexican past. You can clearly hear the engine of the W12 release. Bottas, slyly behind the three, takes advantage and overtakes Lewis. Meanwhile, the McLaren and the Red Bull slightly collide while exiting the corner. 

But that’s not over. Norris and Perez have not finished their battle, which continues at Turn 3. This time it is Hamilton who keeps himself out of trouble by becoming a spectator of a collision that, after the stewards’ not-so-quick evaluations, will determine a five-second penalty for the McLaren driver. 

Shortly before this, Bottas blocks the inner tyre and runs slightly wide. Hamilton joins him and, thanks also to Perez’s gravel excursion, finds himself from fifth to second with the possibility of attacking the McLaren.

On lap 7 Bono warns that it is now possible to activate the DRS, an extra weapon for Lewis to try to attack his compatriot. But the McLaren is too fast on the straight, despite not being able to use the device. Lewis bangs his nose on him and pops up on the radio: “Very hard to follow”. The gap from Verstappen, which runs on the low 1’09″, grows in a sudden and worrying way.

Bono imposes HPP3-5 to give a greater chance of success to the hunt for the #44. At lap 10, Norris visibly feels the pressure and makes a little mistake, which Hamilton tries to take advantage of, although in vain. 

Hamilton tries to use different trajectories on a track that has very few turns and on which the room for maneuvers is limited. It is above all at Turn 3 that he draws different trajectories, trying to stay further away from the apex. He tries to run more “roundly” while approaching the corners, in order to stress the tyres less and have better exits as well. In Turn 1, on the other hand, the difficulties that were clearly visible at the Styrian GP persist: the W12 “floats” at the exit, discharging the power badly to the ground.

The laps go by but the situation does not change: Norris runs away, Hamilton hunts him down unsuccessfully. The Mercedes driver opens on the radio asking for “More power“. In response comes a “Try STRAT eleven on the straights“. Certainly not an aggressive mapping. Shortly after Bono requests a “Balance check“, to which Lewis replies with “Pretty good“, but it is not enough to have the upper hand on his rival.

At lap 21 the overtake finally arrives. McLaren’s pace had dropped significantly. At the same time – and with an unacceptable delay, especially in a sport that is based on thousandths of a second – a penalty is imposed for the impact with Perez’s car.

Immediately after, Norris gives way. It could be due the communication of the sanction, it could be the need to adjust the race strategy. As a matter of fact, Lewis manages to overtake the young compatriot at Turn 3. It should be noted that Hamilton will be notified only three laps later of the five-second penalty imposed on Lando, who will then serve it in the pit. 

Immediately after the overtake, Hamilton, demonstrating that despite the difficult moment he manages to remain lucid, opens up on the radio to congratulate Norris: “Such a great drive, Lando“. After the race, Lando actually listened to that team radio and thanked the seven-time world champion.

Now Hamilton is in second place, the gap from the top is significant: 9.2 seconds. It may seem a mountain to climb, with an impeccable Red Bull ahead, as precise as a Swiss watch in setting the pace. From the pit wall there are no great hopes of closing the gap and in fact Bono suggests STRAT 7 or 11 mode, but nothing that can allow the British to squeeze his W12 that continues to struggle in Turns 1 and 3

In the laps preceding the pit stop, the engineer makes sure that Hamilton manages the traction when exiting the corners: he repeats “Traction management” several times. Yet another “Balance Check” is requested around lap 27. The team then begins to think about the stop. Three laps after, the gap from the top is 11.5 seconds. Hamilton, who on the radio can only see the lack of pace (“I’m losing“), accumulates over two seconds in ten laps, a huge gap considering the length of the track.

The call arrives at lap 32, when the chronometer delta has opened at 12 seconds. On the previous lap, Norris and Bottas had stopped. The latter overtakes the Englishman, who serves his penalty. Before Bono calls him in to pit, he makes a request that seems an encrypted message about the conditions of the tyres. Lewis pops up on the radio and says: “Rear limited, front ok“. A few seconds pass and you listen to “Box, box, box“. 

Bono warns his driver to watch out for the white line in the pit entrance. Tsunoda knows a thing or two about it, as he received a time penalty for touching the line.

The same thing is reported after the assembly of the hard in a stop of 2.2 seconds.

In the following lap it is Verstappen’s turn to stop. Despite the entrance coming later, the Dutchman managed to gain on Hamilton. At lap 33 there are 12.8 seconds of gap between the two and the race could be said to be over at this point, because the distance is too great to be bridged, especially considering the race pace of car #33. However, everything gets complicated due to a problem that could have seemed venial, but instead starts a chain of events that will cause the seven-time world champion to lose two positions. 

Let’s go directly to the crucial moment. On lap 36 Bono reports that Lewis’s car has an aerodynamic failure. Some appendages of the floor have been damaged. There was no particular impact, the problem occurs following the steps on the kerbs between Turn 9-10. The confirmation comes after listening to the on board of Valtteri Bottas (to which we refer, read here) in which Riccardo Musconi – the track engineer of the #77 – informs his driver about what happened to the sister car at lap 35. 

Important clarification: at a certain point the TV direction shows an important wiggle on the bollard outside Turn 1, but it is something that happens when the damage had already been communicated. To be precise, the impact erroneously assessed as the fatal one arrives on lap 47, shortly after Lewis gets rid of Latifi’s Williams: he goes wide into Turn 1 and slams heavily on the yellow object. Here is the moment:

Let’s go back to our timeline of events. Hamilton begins to repeat like a mantra “Rear is definitively struggling“. Meanwhile Bono warns that Bottas has quickly closed the gap: from five seconds to about one in a few laps. Shortly after, Lewis reiterates the uncomfortable situation he is facing: “I can’t go faster“. 

Bottas is uncomfortably tapped by the 44 as Norris starts gaining on him and begins to threaten the Black Arrow of the Finn. Hamilton reiterates: “I can’t get to the end with these tires“. Bono replies “We’ll see what options we have“. The aerodynamic imbalance, which after the race will be quantified by Andrew Shovlin in about seven tenths of a second per lap, also determines a global imbalance that leads to abnormal and sudden wear of the rear axle tyres.

With Bottas blowing angrily and Norris becoming threatening, the Mercedes pit wall cannot help but ask the driver to leave the track clear to his teammate in the hope of being able to stand tall against the Woking driver. Such a solution will turn out to be a failure, as their race paces don’t match. 

Bottas is a threatening shadow:

Both are free to race, as the pit wall communicates: it is a way of telling Lewis he will have to step aside. The pilot accepts with a seraphic “Ok“.

It is on lap 52, in a mocking retaliation, that Hamilton surrenders: Verstappen sets the fastest lap and, at the same time, Bottas overtakes his teammate before Turn 3, after Bonnington warned to switch positions. 

Two laps later, it is time for Norris to take third place that Hamilton cannot help but give up. Lewis paddles out of Turn 3, Lando is glued to him. In the following corner, the McLaren driver comfortably has the inside and runs after Bottas, who in the meantime is in second place. Hamilton is now fourth and has 17 more laps ahead. 

The overtake is also aided by the fact that Lewis had already decided to stop. The GPS data and the additional 10 seconds that will be added to Sergio Perez’s overall time at the end of the race suggest that it is possible to make another stop without risking an already modest fourth place.

The pit-stop runs smoothly.

Another set of Hards (C3) is fitted, Bono warns that when returning to the track, attention must be paid to the rushing Mick Schumacher and commands STRAT 5. The endothermic mapping is pushed and the reason is to be found in what the technician explains little after: the damage to the car is serious and the gap from McLaren cannot be bridged. But there is still hope for a Safety Car, which might help him. 

However, in spite of many battles taking place, the SC won’t come out. The race will then continue wearily up to the checkered flag with Bonnington which merely indicates the gaps and normal operations. With 14 laps to go, for example, the order to do lift and coast arrives. Hamilton is told to take his foot off the right pedal 50 meters earlier than usual.

The prescription is repeated in the next step with the addition that it is necessary to save fuel. The damage to the floor may have resulted in extra fuel consumption. But it is more realistic that, given the safety advantage over Perez, they want to avoid straining the car from the wall.

The last laps are completed without any issues, with the gaps on the Mexican uttered with rhythmic constancy on the radio. Just to stress an important point, in the last lap, the communication of a double yellow flag with Bono who suggests a “big lift“, in order not to incur in a penalty. After the race there will be many drivers under investigation who, for reasons that are still obscure and sincerely inscrutable, have not suffered any penalties despite the non-compliance with the prescription.

After the checkered flag, the ritual exchange of views between Bonnington and Hamilton takes place. They both talk about their “Difficult day” and then about the normal communications on power unit settings for the return lap. Hamilton asks how many points he has lost and Bono replies “Stand by“, to then say “14 points, not what we needed”. 

The Austrian GP was a real ordeal that produces a very important gap in the standings. There are now 32 points that separate Hamilton from the race winner. Red Bull no longer knows how to lose and extends its gap in the drivers’ standings. The world championship is slipping through the fingers of Lewis, whose deal extension with Mercedes was announced on the Saturday before the race.

The confirmation for two more years can also mean, in a more daring interpretation, that both Hamilton and Mercedes consider this championship already lost. Hence the need to plan the future well with a solid bond that can be the basis for the return to the top. The last hope for 2021 lies in the evolution package announced by Wolff for the next Silverstone GP. But will it be enough?


Autore: Diego Catalano – @diegocat1977

Traduzione: Beatrice Zamuner – @ZamunerB

Foto: F1TV

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