Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Jeddah Corniche Circuit, 2021

Hamilton set fastest lap despite losing ‘four tenths’ with wing damage

2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

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Lewis Hamilton took the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix fastest lap despite his front wing being damaged in two separate incidents.

The team’s trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin said the damage from his tangles with Max Verstappen and Esteban Ocon were costing Hamilton up to four tenths of a second by the end of the race.

Verstappen was involved in both incidents in which the right-hand side of Hamilton’s wing was damaged. The Red Bull driver passed the Mercedes at turn one during the race’s second restart on lap 17. Hamilton was sandwiched between his title rival and Ocon, and his front-right hit Ocon while the front-left tapped Verstappen’s rear-right tyre.

Shovlin described Mercedes’ relief of emerging from the first incident. “Losing the position wasn’t that big a setback for us,” he said. “The relief was more than we managed to get through that three-abreast moment where Lewis got sandwiched without losing the wing completely or suffering some serious car damage.

“More of the focus was on making sure that everything was okay. And we still hadn’t had a significant loss of performance at that stage.”

However Hamilton suffered a further loss in performance when the wing took another hit on lap 37. This occured when Verstappen braked early for the final corner and Hamilton lost his right-hand front wing endplate as he hit his rival’s rear.

The lap time loss was more noticeable from that point on, said Shovlin. “It was going up and up. We started off with probably only about a tenth or two after he got sandwiched and Esteban rode over it. We were quite lucky that it sort of seemed to hit the road, we lost a few bits but it bounced back, no more damage.

“After Max we then lost the whole side of it, so you’re getting up to nearer four tenths of performance.”

Having come close to losing pole position for Verstappen in qualifying, Mercedes enjoyed stronger pace in the race. Verstappen used the medium compound tyre for the final stint with Hamilton on the more durable hard rubber.

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“The other thing we’d seen that gave us a lot of optimism was the speed that Lewis had,” Shovlin said of Hamilton’s pursuit of Verstappen on the harder rubber.

“His best lap, and he was just warming up, was still half second quicker than Max’s in the first stint, and that was telling us that we can actually win this on track.”

That became more difficult when Hamilton and Verstappen came to blows as they tried trading positions, with the latter having been instructed to hand the lead over to Hamilton to avoid a penalty for an illegal overtake at turn one where they hadn’t touched.

A few laps after the front wing-breaking collision, the durability of Verstappen’s medium tyres meant he had to start managing them and so Hamilton was able to get back past. Once ahead the Mercedes driver upped his pace to take the extra point for fastest lap, going three quarters of a second faster than Verstappen’s earlier benchmark once he was on a low fuel load late on.

Shovlin said the pursuit of fastest lap came from a “very determined” Hamilton, with Mercedes unsure on the risk of pushing to the limit.

“At the time we were very much in two minds,” he said. “We were seeing other people struggling with the tyres. We could see that the wing was most definitely not guaranteed to stay on the car after the afternoon or evening that it had.

“And it’s a difficult decision between do you go for the point, and Lewis knew fine well it would put him level [at the top of the standings], or do you play it safe? Ultimately Lewis was the one who took the decision, and that decision was probably aided by the fact he can’t actually see the front wing, because if he was watching the TV like we were, he may have thought better of it.”

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2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

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Author information

Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...
Ida Wood
Often found in junior single-seater paddocks around Europe doing journalism and television commentary, or dabbling in teaching photography back in the UK. Currently based...

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51 comments on “Hamilton set fastest lap despite losing ‘four tenths’ with wing damage”

  1. BLS (@brightlampshade)
    6th December 2021, 12:24

    Whoever built Hamiltons front wing deserves a serious Christmas bonus. That thing took an absolute pounding through the race.

    1. Yes, during the race I thought it was a miracle that the wing was still there after all these contacts. How many times did we see front wings flying off after similar contacts during the year…

    2. @brightlampshade Well, a mixture of serious indestructibility and not making much difference aerodynamically whether it got damaged or not! Maybe the damage was just the right shape for that track and moment :O)

      1. @david-br I would like to think that way but I think it was just sheer will that drove that car. Hamilton didn’t kknow how bad his wing was. Maybe he had some idea after the crash but after his team told him “seems fine to us” Hamilton drove off the distance from Max which looked quite odd seeing how bad it really was.

    3. They have likely strengthened the wing. Knowing who they are racing with, it’s a sound decision that has paid dividends.

  2. Setting the FLAP & running away from Max despite the front wing damage made his win even more special.

  3. Not sure what the benefit is of getting that extra point. Max is still ahead, so if they both crash out, Max is the champion. It seems extremely unlikely that Lewis will finish 4th and Max in 5th, where Max gets the extra point, which is one of the few scenario’s where it would matter.

    1. Only scenario it wouldn’t matter is when they both crash out or Verstappen finishes ahead of Lewis. But with Mad Max’s antics on the track crashing out is a real possibility sadly. Think other scenarios like Lewis finishes 9th and Verstappen 10th.

      1. If they both crash out, Verstappen will be champion on countback due to having more wins @rockgod, so it really only matters if Hamilton is able to get only 1 point more than Verstappen is in the next race.

        1. Yes @bascb, that’s why I said FLAP in Jeddah wouldn’t matter if they both crash out.

          1. Right, I must have somehow misread your comment there @rockgod.

      2. It is not a matter of IF but WHEN is Max going to crash into Lewis in Abu Dhabi.
        This explains why,in djeddaah;Lewis was so hesitant to pass Max:He knew Max crash was itching to crash into him since the first lap of not only Djeddah race ,but Monza;qatar and other grand prix as well.
        Fasten your seat belts Lewis and ask them to further reinforce your wings next week,you most probably will need it to survive the crashstapen treatment there.

    2. @aapje Yeah this is a point that seems to have been missed by most people – it’s nearly impossible for that point to make a difference in this specific case going into the last race. It only helps if Lewis ends up 1 point ahead in the standings, which like you said is something like a 4-5th with the latter scoring FL, or if Lewis finishes 10th with no FL and Max DNFs. Very marginal cases and perhaps given the situation driving with 100% caution would have been more sensible.

      1. EVERY point is crucial at this stage.

  4. So, what I hear is Lewis had pace to win even without “unfair 5-sec penalty” that RBR gang proclaims to receive.

    1. @rockgod True. Verstappen was forced to switch back to the medium tyre for that overtake on the second restart to work. When that tyre was unlikely to make it till the end. Even with all the VSC’s he was gifted.

      1. Exactly @f1osaurus. So, I’m not sure what RBR were whining about penalties being unfair when they got even got away with inconsequential 10-sec post race penalty for blatant brake-checking.

        1. @rockgod I guess it’s all some form of propaganda. Also how they pretend that they had the slower car when in the same sentence saying that he would have had pole by half a second if he hadn’t crashed out in Q3.

          Or how they set Verstappen’s car up with most downforce of all and then pretend it’s somehow unfair that he’s slower on the straights while showing his masterful skill of being faster in the corners.

          It makes no sense to lie like that all the time, but they keep doing it.

          1. Andy (@andyfromsandy)
            6th December 2021, 17:10

            Horner was bigging up his man with how Max was able to gain those few tenths to stay out of DRS range.

      2. The idea was not to finish the race.
        The idea was to be in front and crash into lewis when he tries to pass him.
        Finish the race was never on the card.
        Get poe position at all costs ,then finish him up when he tries to overtake.
        Same thing coming this week in Abu dhabi.
        Seat back and enjoy.

    2. @rockgod But it was clear from the restart(s) that Verstappen would only win if there was a chance to pit again, or get another free tyre swap. Plus Mercedes’ pace was shown to be good on the hard tyre already from Friday. Leaving aside everything that happened between the race start and checkered flag, Max in P2 was good damage limitation for Red Bull. Bottas could and should have been in P2 (though not his fault necessarily this race).

  5. Hamilton was the only one trying though, but still impressive lap yes. Guess an actual fastest lap attempt on fresh tyres and fully functional front wing could have been a second faster still, but it’s impressive he got so close on old tyres and a damaged wing

    Getting that extra point still does not put Hamilton “level [at the top of the standings]” enough though. Verstappen can still keep driving into Hamilton with at worst needing to let him back in front again if he even gets investigated for it.

  6. Kudos to Merc for making a ‘spicy’ engine as they put it. That really has made a huge difference in both Brazil and Saudi.

    I wonder, if Mercedes if able to carry this spec of engine to 2022 while finding a way to reduce degradation on it, 2022 title will be a walkover. It still might be a walkover as the penalty for new engines reduces post the 4th engine.

    1. Maybe he can use Perez’ engine? Perez was 11kmh per hour faster than Verstappen through the speed trap.

      Or do you think perhaps it has something to do with the fact that Verstappen generally choses a very high downforce setup? You know, faster through corners and slower on the straight to sort of arrive at a similar lap time?

      1. Funny you mention that, in some corners HAM was like 10km/h faster! In Brazil, even 20km/h difference. It’s a lot. And it’s official FIA measuring, not mine. So, how about RBR is not that good as it might seem?!

        1. @mg1982 Not sure how that is relevant? Besides it not being true. Or at least not when compared in similar situations (same fuel same tyre conditions)

      2. Andy (@andyfromsandy)
        6th December 2021, 17:12

        Horner stated Max didn’t have high downforce wing.

    2. I think this is what Horner was trying to reference in his interview yesterday. Mercedes still had the resource and money to bring an upgraded engine towards the end of the season. I am speculating here but I hardly see Honda willing to spend more money than they allocated for this season to counter this move. On top of that, Mercedes’ strategy to phase that engine in Brazil worked perfectly. It was too late to make a counter move for that on Redbull’s part. I think Honda too can probably produce an engine capable of having similiar spec to Mercedes but not this late into their last season in F1

      1. Mercedes still had the resource and money to bring an upgraded engine towards the end of the season

        That’s not allowed.

        You are falling for the Horner propaganda is what is happening. In Brazil Hamilton was 9 km/h faster than Verstappen, but that was because Verstappen was pretty much slowest of all with a much higher downforce package than others. As far as that Honda engine goes, Gasly was 14km/h faster than Hamilton.

        Perez even drove past Hamilton in Brazil when Perez had the DRS and a tow after Hamilton the poor exit from overtaking in turn 1. Perez just flew past on the straight and was well ahead before they even arrived at the corner. So where was the “rocket engine” then? Was it suddenly a Honda rocket?

  7. Max destroyed host tires dive bombing sideways through the turn. Hamilton should be driver of race for avoiding Max. Avoiding damage on the brake check would have made him driver of the century.

    1. Commentators never mentioned it, but during the 1st red flag there was a close up of Max’s mediums from his first stint, and they looked really bad on the inner edge. I was surprised that Red Bull were confident to let him go Medium to the end after that.

      1. @eurobrun It’s almost like Red Bull didn’t think the Max-Lewis battle would last to the end – some ‘incident’ would resolve the race in their favour before hand.

      2. commentary on F1TV Pitlane channel did bring that one up yeah @eurobrun

      3. @eurobrun
        Yes, they looked really bad.
        After the race, Helmut Marko admitted the reason they put him on mediums again was to have more grip at the start, to be able to immediately overtake Hamilton and Ocon.
        So, I guess they were expecting Max to suffer towards the end of his stint to a certain degree. He also said that Max couldn’t push anymore after the collision, because there was a cut in his lef rear tyre.

        1. I heard Christian say that about the rear left tyre after the race, but could he really have seen the cut during the race? If not, how could it have influenced Max’s driving?

  8. Careful now, Toto won’t have any excuses left for why Mercedes isn’t clearly the faster car!

    1. @eurobrun Bottas didn’t show that pace. Max was faster in quali. We never got to see what Max could have done on hards. So yes, it’s still not clear which car was faster. It’s probably almost clear that Ham and Mercedes package was stronger in the race.

      1. Even Toto admitted after the race that their car was faster in race trim.

        1. @srga91 Toto almost always says they had the faster car after the race. That doesn’t mean anything.

          The reason why Hamilton was actually faster over the last stint was because Verstappen had to manage his medium tyres a lot more to make it till the end. And in the end he failed at doing that and Hamilton pushed him into a series of errors.

          That’s not the RB car being slower, but it’s a botched strategy and poor tyre management from Verstappen

          1. @f1osaurus With all the dust kicked up, it’s been difficult to evaluate, but my sense is that Hamilton’s driving has shifted up a level from Brazil on, while Verstappen’s level has dropped off slightly. It will be put down to the cars, as usual, but there’s more than that. Jeddah was really all about Verstappen losing focus, crashing in qualifying and throwing his car Hamilton’s way whenever possible, instead of concentrating on his own pace over a race distance. Maybe desperation but it seems like he’s lost the plot for all his bluster about ‘not caring’ and ‘just racing.’

          2. @david-br Agreed, but the point is that we never really saw what that Red Bull can do since he crashed in Q3 and had to be in tyre saving mode during the race.

      2. Mercedes,already during free practice had posted times on HARD faster than red bull on soft,.
        Namely BOTH Lewis and Bottas time on the hard were faster than Max and perez on soft in Q1 or Q2 or both.

  9. Seeing Hamilton lapping comfortably faster than anyone else, despite the obvious damage to his front wing, made me laugh so hard.
    I mean, every year teams spend several tens of millions to develop these pieces and then when they get damaged or even fall off completely, it hardly makes any difference to the laptimes 😂
    Not just yesterday, but also with Kimi’s damage to the bardgeboards in Austin, Hamilton’s damage to the front wing in Imola (before the red flag), Leclerc’s damage to the front wing in Suzuka 2019 and also Vettel’s damage to his floor during the 2012 season finale in Brazil. These cars should’ve been undriveable, but there wasn’t any notable difference.

    So here’s my (slightly provocative) question: Are aerodynamicists overrated?

    1. Yes thats why most people who studied aero
      or mechanical engineering become teachers

    2. @srga91 With a fresh wing and tyres he could have easily gone a full second faster.

      It didn’t show during the race because Verstappen was struggling on his Medium tyres.

    3. Both Max and Lewis were “lapping comfortably quicker” than everyone else.

      Near the end Hamilton had the harder tyres in quite good condition and light fuel, Max had mediums that were in a poor condition, hence the pace difference.

      I think the Mercedes was a bit quicker on race pace but partly as Red Bull (Max certainly) appear to have gone for a qualifying setup. Max’s crash messed up the whole weekend for them.

  10. Yet still some buy their underdog narrative..

    1. Are you not tired of this BS Mayrton? Because you should be.

      1. Good counter argument.

  11. Just shows that Merc have a rocket ship this year and for the last eight years.

  12. Car design and its parts are not only about outright performance but handling over a race and tyre wear. Thats why sometimes a driver can go faster with a damaged car. It just might not be as driveable as when the car is not damaged.

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