Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Albert Park, 2019

Analysis: The impact of Hamilton’s broken floor and Mercedes’ other Melbourne upgrades

F1 technology

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How badly did Lewis Hamilton’s broken floor affect his race? And how did Mercedes’ upgrades turn their performance around after pre-season testing? Craig Scarborough takes a look.

Having ended the pre-season testing period still suffering some understeer in its set up, work back at Brackley running up to the Australian Grand Prix focused on addressing this imbalance, along with a couple of updated aero parts. The results of this, more likely the set-up work than the new parts, brought the car’s performance back to life.

While we can’t be sure of the set-up work that occurred in the gap between testing and the first race, we can at least see the small aero updates.

Mercedes, Albert Park, 2019
Mercedes front wing, Albert Park, 2019

Firstly, the W10’s front wing was slightly revised, with a shallower rear-most flap element. The rest of the wing and endplate was the same specification as that seen in the second week of testing. In its Melbourne specification, the fifth wing element was slightly shorter in chord and angle of attack, with the fixed outer section of flap that joins to the endplate re-angled to be even flatter. These changes do not make this a new front wing, nor even a concept change towards the tapered Ferrari style wing, but more likely a small, track-specific change.

Secondly, the DRS pod on the rear wing was given a new shape and a serrated trailing edge. This is a small update, typical of the detail work that goes on at Mercedes through the winter, looking at every element of the car:

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Mercedes, Albert Park, 2019
Mercedes DRS pod, Albert Park, 2019

The change in the general shape of the pod is unremarkable, rather it’s the serrated edge that catches the eye and provides a small aero gain. Normally the DRS pod’s open rear end, which is there for the hydraulic linkage to pull the rear wing flap open, has a straight-cut edge.

Now Mercedes has given this edge a zig-zag finish. These serrations help control the break-up of the airflow behind the DRS pod, by kicking off lots of smaller vortices, rather than the airflow turning-in on itself in an uncontrolled manner. This would reduce drag by a tiny percentage and improve the rear wings downforce by a similar fraction, due to the tidier airflow. As the wake behind the pod is slightly better controlled, it might also be quite influential in helping the airflow reattach to the wing when DRS closes at the end of the straight, bringing the wing’s downforce back slightly quicker.

Another change was along the floor’s edge, towards the front the small flaps over the upturned edge were doubled up from one to two elements. Again, this is an incremental change, typical of in-season development, but it may not have been made in isolation.

Mercedes, Albert Park, 2019
Mercedes floor, Albert Park, 2019

This brings us to the lost floor section on Hamilton’s car in the race. Images from French media show earlier in the weekend the rear corner of the floor was being bonded and cured under heat lamps. This work may have been to repair a previously damaged or loose section or perhaps adding a new part in this area.

It’s surely no coincidence that this exact area failed in the race. According to Mercedes’ chief strategist James Vowles, Hamilton sustained the floor damage “during the course of the race while riding over some of the kerbs.” Hamilton suspected the damage occured around lap four, around which point he began losing time to team mate Valtteri Bottas.

This part is quite influential as the rearmost section of floor ahead of the rear tyre is used to keep the tyre’s wake away from the diffuser. This slotted section is familiar to F1 cars of the last 10 years.

Without it, the airflow hitting the rear tyres splits sideways and the inner airflow goes sideways directly into the diffuser. This effect is known as tyre ‘squirt’ and is hugely detrimental to the diffuser’s performance.

Losing this part in the race could easily have knocked a tenth off the car’s ultimate pace from the downforce loss alone, then exacerbated by the change in the car’s balance and overuse of its tyres. But alone would not account for the whole difference in race pace between the two Mercedes.

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Craig Scarborough
Craig Scarborough is RaceFans' new technical contributor for 2019....

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50 comments on “Analysis: The impact of Hamilton’s broken floor and Mercedes’ other Melbourne upgrades”

  1. This damaged little part of the car has been talked about too much, like it is the reason Hamilton came second, this article’s final paragraph is great and exactly what I thought. I know we won’t get a similar review from scarbs on kubica’s Williams, but his car had more substantial damage and a damaged diffuser and a broken off mirror, would like to know how much a lap scarbs thought that car was losing. But Mercedes is at the front and Williams is at the back so ofcourse more focus will naturally go to this tiny damage on the fastest car on the grid, and not about any damage to Williams (or ricciardo’s Renault pre retiring the car)

    1. And just as I wrote that, this tiny damage is front page news on motorsport.com, cmon… Give it a rest already! Totally overhyped garbage.

      1. Angry little man aren’t you.

      2. @kpcart I concur. There’s of course a good chance I’m wrong in that we don’t get to hear anything but select radio comm, so perhaps they were discussing this during the race, but it seems to me there was not a mention of floor damage until after the race, such that to me it almost sounded like they were making an excuse for LH. But hey, it does seem like there was floor damage, and at the same time I think VB was already pulling away from LH within the first four laps before the damage happened, so…I guess I would have thought F1 would have selected a radio comm related to this for us to hear during the race. Was a chunk of floor literally missing from something that happened on lap four? Where was the camera replay? Or at least a shot of the defending champ’s piece of floor lying there on the ground. Where was the marshal picking up the piece? I mean, I know it is real because Scarbs has reported on it, but it just seems so mysterious and like they were trying to save LH some embarrassment.

        I combine these thoughts with the thought that VB indeed embarrassed LH with a performance that he himself couldn’t seem to explain or believe, and one that I don’t expect to see duplicated necessarily from VB unless he has truly gone ‘Nico’ on LH and has had enough of second fiddle. I’m more inclined to think LH will be back leading VB next race, but hope I’m wrong.

        1. The floor issue was discussed during the race. Hamilton was feeding back on the loss of rear grip and the fact that the rear tyres were overheating. Hamiltons race was affected in two ways. Firstly there was the issue with the floor, which although some on here do not seem to think so, is in fact quite important. Then there was the issue that Merc brought him in far too early. He then had to nurse the tyres to the end of the race while also dealing with a problem that was affecting the state of the tyres… It is likely both of those factors put together were a major part of the issue. However he may have came second anyway but we can not know that… That is not to take anything away from the Bottas’ drive which was very good.

        2. There’s of course a good chance I’m wrong in that we don’t get to hear anything but select radio comm

          You know fine well we only here select radio comms and it has been that way for years.

          Was a chunk of floor literally missing from something that happened on lap four?

          Yes there were pictures of it literally missing

          but it just seems so mysterious and like they were trying to save LH some embarrassment.

          Classic Robbie bias.

          @kpcart

          This damaged little part of the car

          Once again your lack of F1 knowledge is evident. The size of a part is not directly proportional to its effect if damaged.

      3. You poor little thing. Don’t get too upset. :(

    2. What’s the problem kpcart? The article serves as insight into how small components can have – in relative terms – significant effects on overall pace. Craig Scarborough states at the end that it doesn’t account for all the speed difference.

      So is this damage down to the problem Mercedes supposedly have with kerbs due to their need for stiffer suspension? (If that’s still true.)

      1. @david-br, the problem is probably because kpcart is a fan of Kubica and therefore wants the site to write more about Kubica, particularly if the damage to his car can then be used as justification for Kubica’s performance over this weekend.

    3. *sigh*

      The missing part is not why Hamilton came second– he came second because Bottas beat him to turn 1, and because passing at Albert Park is nigh impossible for two evenly matched cars.

      The missing part is, however, responsible for Hamilton having to nurse his car even more than usual:

      Losing this part in the race could easily have knocked a tenth off the car’s ultimate pace from the downforce loss alone, then exacerbated by the change in the car’s balance and overuse of its tyres.

      And given Hamilton had to make his second set of tires last 43 laps, he had to drive as slowly as possible while still staying in front of Verstappen and Vettel– which he did.

      Why is it people have such a hard time believing Hamilton was managing his pace (and therefore the tires) for the entire race, and the 20 second gap was entirely strategic?

      1. Strategic.. Yep.
        It’s because ham was looking for an excuse for his sub par performance.
        It was because whining when not winning seems te be the first sign of a troubled mind.
        When doing great he is in love with his team, if anything goes wrong the cause is attributed.
        But still ham is and will be one of the greatest.

      2. * Sigh *

        Lewis came second because it was import to Mercedes that Bottas won that race. period.

        Rather than make a race of it Lewis chose not to stress his engine, and so drove well within the capacity of the car, as we saw when vettel caught up and he had plenty in hand to keep him at bay.

        Can you imagine the headlines if Bottas hadn’t won, or worst lost out on second place? Mercedes know its important to keep Bottas motivated for the long game.

    4. No you wont hear similar comments about the Williams but unfortunately a few damaged parts on what is in effect the worst car on the grid will have made little difference to the cars overall performance. What a shame to see such a great team in such a dire position and even worse seeing a man of Kubica’s talents wasted driving a donkey of a car.

    5. Hamilton lost 1st position at the lights. The gap is inconsequential if he could keep other drivers behind him and still finish 2nd.

      1. Exactly. HAM knew he could catch but not overtake BOT so he took second place as slowly as he could a) to save his engine, and b) to hold up VET so that VER could get 3rd. HAM knows he’s fighting VET for the title, not BOT.

  2. I love this picture, seeing a good old 1/4 drive set + other tools sitting on the floor.

    1. Wes (@flashofsilver)
      21st March 2019, 12:31

      How is no one talking about the carbon fiber tool holder upgrade added to Lewis’s floor? These boxes also appeared to be missing on his floor after the in race damage occurred. Surely this is also why he lost so much time to Valtteri!!!

      In all seriousness though, those boxes look awesome.

      1. Yes, carbon fibre tool trays! I like them. I guess they have to have small projects for their carbon fibre moulding people to practice on before they get on to the really important stuff.

        1. @drycrust – I agree! I always admire the monitor mounts they use to display data to the driver in the car, when in the garage, as well, at how it is form-fitted to that part of the car. .

  3. Great article, I’d love to know the fundamental flaw in Williams’ car, although I imagine the answer is, all of it.

    1. Last years upgrades introduced a fundamental flaw. It stalled the rear diffuser. It’s not a money issue it has to be a competencey issue.

      1. @ming-mong – true. And Silverstone was probably the scariest manifestation of that airflow issue.

        Any thoughts where their problem lies this year? Something similar, or just an overall lack of downforce?

        1. @phylyp – It is too difficult to say. The issue last year was clear to see and rectified fairly quickly. They just look slow everywhere. What I find interesting is they said that this is going to take many months to fix. I think it’s more than just downforce related. I would say there is a weight issue as well. Who really knows for sure…

          1. @ming-mong – thank you.

          2. @phylyp – What are you thanking me for?

            It also could be some very clever PR. By publicly saying you know there is one fundamental problem it gives hope & buys time. I really hope not though.

          3. @ming-mong – thanking you for your reply, mate :)

          4. too easy matey ;)

          5. @phylyp – too easy matey ;)

  4. For sure the missing piece hurt the car a bit, but with Bottas saying it was his greatest ever race and how he could do whatever he wanted with the car, the gap was likely as much or more about Bottas’ race speed.

    1. @balue Both can be true. Good Bottas start + loss of part affecting Hamilton’s pace + consequent perceived need to cover Vettel’s early pit + Bottas driving quickly and confidently all race. I think it’s the first and last bits that were standout for me: the way Bottas took the lead, and the way he looked like a championship-winning driver, no mistakes and eventually taking fastest lap. It was a dominant performance, showing he’d moved on from last year, and even without damage Hamilton wouldn’t have caught him.

      1. @david-br That’s a good analysis.

      2. Which, by no coincidence, matches what Hamilton said– as soon as Bottas took the lead, without Bottas making a mistake, Hamilton wouldn’t be able to pass him.

        1. We did see Hamilton hassle Rosberg into a mistake on a few occasions (Monza 2014 where Nico outbraked himself under pressure at turn 1 coming to mind). So maybe without damage he could have put pressure on Bottas. But I doubt it would have worked the mood Bottas was in.

    2. All things being equal, If you think Bottas can pull a 20sec gap over Lewis within a race distance, then you must be living in an alternate universe.

      The issue is not Lewis coming second; as Albert Part is a notoriously difficult track to overtake, and doing it in identical machinery would be nigh on impossible.

      The issue is the gap. Mercedes know Lewis did not suddenly lose 20sec to Bottas from last year at the track, nor did Bottas gain 20 sec from his winter break. Hence, they found out the reason and educating the fans about it.

      Best race or not, Bottas cannot beat Lewis by over 20 secs when both cars are working properly. He has never done so with any teammate in the whole of his career.

      1. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
        21st March 2019, 17:19

        You are somewhat ignoring Russia 2017 when you must have been in an alternate universe based on what you say… The gap was 36 seconds and Hamilton’s car was not broken. He may have started 4th, but it was him being slow holding him back, not traffic. Bottas has on just this occation and the last race, beaten Hamilton by over 20 seconds.

        So you shouldn’t just say he cannot beat him by this margin without problems. As 36 seconds without problems is much more of a dominent race by Bottas than last weekend.

        Given what this article is suggesting, Hamilton lost around a tenth per lap. If his problem was on lap 4 and it cost him around a tenth a lap, that will be around 6 seconds. If we are generous and say it cost him over 10, that is still quite a distane off Bottas. If he had had no problems, I think he won’t have been much closer than 10 seconds off Bottas. Bottas just looked so comfortable the entire race. And to be honest, he also looked very consistent and quick in qualifying. Hamilton just managed fractionally better in the end.

        Bottas does to me look better this year, i doubt there will be many if any other races where he beats Hamilton by this margin, but I expect he’ll beat him more often than last year.

        Hamilton also said that last race, Bottas had better pace and this was even before his issue. So that aside, It is still likely Bottas will have been more than just a few seconds ahead.

        But Bottas did very well this weekend, and you can’t really take that away from him. But it often looks that you just don’t like saying positive things about Bottas.

        1. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
          21st March 2019, 18:35

          And sorry for this, I did take it wrong in that i thought it said/ meant hamilton could easily have lost a tenth per lap. I realy should have noticed that it meant a tenth of the cars performance over the race. But like it said, I still doubt the gap will have been very close even if Hamilton tried his hardest. Bottas likely will still have had a comfortable 5 – 10 lead I would have thought given on his feedback with how great the car felt (which often didn’t suit him last year)

      2. The issue is not Lewis coming second; as Albert Part is a notoriously difficult track to overtake, and doing it in identical machinery would be nigh on impossible.

        Never at any moment during the race ham was even able to push Bottas. Overtaking needs a car in at least Drs distance. After hams almost traditional bad start Bottas disappeared in the distance

      3. The same alternate universe in which Jenson Button outdrove Lewis Hamilton by 43 points over a season?

        1. How does this relates to Bottas?

          1. I’ll leave that (pretty simple btw) question as an exercise for the readers

  5. Lewis, Bottas was faster than you.

  6. Just deal with it, Hamilton had a sub-par race and it can’t be played down to technical issues only, it wasn’t just his race. What I find ridiculous is that some people keep scolding other drivers for races in which they were a victim of bad strategy or whatever issues, but Hamilton gets this ticket of “all the world going against him” and he could have been much more quicker if he’d wanted. Well, he wasn’t, so let’s not act as if the Messiah just handed the victory to the first hopeful in the queue.

    1. If you are talking to the article writer, he agrees with you as evidenced by the last line.

  7. Bottas won a race. The overreaction on the both sides is ridiculous.

    1. Agreed… but (fan)boys will be (fan)boys… ;-)

  8. Splendid article. Very informative.

  9. Good Analysis. Roll on Bahrain. If people don’t want to accept the information being said to us that’s up to them, part of me wishes Hamilton lead the race at the first corner, sustained his damage and then watch what would’ve unfolded then…

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