“Can’t seem to improve, man”: How Hamilton’s “bolder” set-up gamble led to shock Q1 exit

2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

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Lewis Hamilton’s elimination in the first round of qualifying at Jeddah Corniche Circuit was undoubtedly the biggest surprise of the session.

Unreliability and the occasional crash aside, Hamilton has almost invariably sailed through the first round of qualifying for over a decade. But he came unstuck under the lights in Saudi Arabia after risking just a little too much in his attempt to wring performance from the W13, a car which was over two-thirds of a second off the pace in Bahrain a week ago.

“We’re still experimenting with set-ups to find out where the sweet spot of the car is,” Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff explained in response to a question from RaceFans. “On Lewis’s side they went a bit bolder and the outcome was that basically they had no rear end in the car. And that explains that big lap time deficit.”

Hamilton was six tenths of a second slower than his team mate on the same rubber when he dropped out at the end of Q1. “I had no rear end,” he admitted while the qualifying session continued without him.

“The car was feeling good in [final practice] and I made a couple of adjustments. But I had no rear end, the rear was so loose.”

That was obvious from his first run in Q1, which he started on mediums. He corrected a snap of oversteer in turn two and another in the quicker turn four. His first effort was a 1’32.708, far from the pace, almost two seconds away from what George Russell did in the other Mercedes.

But while Russell was on the same rubber as his team mate, their cars had been set-up differently, and he was visibly more comfortable in his W13.

“The car is really on a knife’s edge and getting it in the right window is so difficult,” Russell said. “Lewis and I went down different set-up of routes and clearly it didn’t work out. It’s pretty clear on the data.”

Any opportunity for Hamilton to explore the problem further on his mediums was swiftly ended when Nicholas Latifi crashed and the session was red-flagged. Part of his exchange with race engineer Peter Bonnington conveying his surprise at the deficit to Russell in the first sector was played on the world television feed:

BonningtonJust looks like we’re pushing the entries a bit too much in four, 13 and 22.
HamiltonHow much are we down?
Bonnington2.2 seconds to Magnussen. 1.9 to George.

With 11 minutes left to run when the session restarted, and the possibility another interruption could occur, Mercedes took the safe decision to send both cars out on soft tyres with enough fuel to run until the end.

Hamilton had three cracks at bettering his time, but it wasn’t enough.

BonningtonDouble yellow, double yellow. Red flag, red flag. Keep delta positive, no overtaking. Go to strat mode one, get that pack charged.
HamiltonTyres still good.
HamiltonHow’s the sectors? There?
BonningtonSo you’re seven tenths off of George, he set a purple sector one.
HamiltonSeven tenths off in sector one?
BonningtonAffirm. So check the weigh bridge lights on the way in.

Ahead of his final run, Bonnington’s feedback to Hamilton was much the same as it had been after his first, that he was trying to take too much speed into the corners.

Wolff said the team had reduced their rear wing angles in an effort to improve straight-line performance on Jeddah’s long straights. Their deficit had been painfully apparently after final practice, where seven of the Mercedes-powered cars clustered at the bottom of the lap times, Hamilton 11th.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Jeddah Corniche Circuit, 2022
Hamilton said he had “no rear end” in his car
The W13’s sensitivity to set-up changes, which Russell alluded to, meant the slight different in wing levels had a significant effect, as Wolff explained.

“You can see between Lewis and George’s performances, that was not huge set-up changes that happened, but they were big enough to have dramatic consequences on the performance of the car between going out in Q1 and making it solid into Q3,” he said.

“This car is so tricky to set up. We had a lower drag rear wing, we took the Gurney off, but still it wasn’t enough to shave more drag off the car.”

As he embarked on his final effort, Hamilton was aware of the seriousness of the situation as he battled his car at turn-in all around the 27-corner track.

BonningtonSo currently P13. Currently 0.8 down to George, he’s in P4. The sectors, 0.6 sector one, 0.2 in the middle and zero in the final. Sector one is turn four and then turns eight, nine minimum speeds. There’s a little bit minimum speed turn 16, minimum speed turn 22. 27 looks okay.
HamiltonIs one and two okay?
BonningtonYeah turn one-two looks okay.
HamiltonJust how much is lost in four?
BonningtonTurn four looks about two-and-a-half tenths.
HamiltonWhere’s the eight tenths?
HamiltonCan’t seem to improve, man.
BonningtonOkay, we’ll take another single cool and go again.
HamiltonLet me know where most of it is.

Hamilton’s final lap was largely clean. He made a slight correction in turn two, and had minor mid-corner and exit twitches through the long left-hander of turn 13.

That cut almost a quarter of a second off his lap time. But the resulting 1’30.343 only put him 15th, and was immediately beaten by Lance Stroll in the similarly-powered Aston Martin, and Hamilton was condemned to his early exit:

BonningtonSo small loss at turns one, two. Also minimum speed turn four and then it’s turns six, seven. Turn 22 pushing the entry too much so losing on exit. So globally looks like we’re just pushing the entries too much.
HamiltonHow much am I down, are we at risk right now?
BonningtonAffirm, we are at risk. Currently P16. Eight-tenths to George, P4.
HamiltonHow much is that down in each sector or is it just all in one?
BonningtonMainly sector one, half a second sector one.

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2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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34 comments on ““Can’t seem to improve, man”: How Hamilton’s “bolder” set-up gamble led to shock Q1 exit”

  1. Struck me as the Mercedes arrogance which has grown as a result of winning easily for too many seasons. We’ve seen it before at the rare races over the last seven years where they haven’t been dominating, and they just can’t adapt their strategy.

    Going to an unproven setup? Testing on Mediums at the start of the session when they know there is a strong chance of a red flag? Trying to set a time on five-lap old softs?

    All the hallmarks of a team that can’t accept that their car has midfield pace and expect to cruise through to Q3 without having to think about it.

    If they had gone out on softs at the start of Q1 like all the other midfield teams they would have realised that the setup change had been a mistake and might even have had time to revert back to the old setting. And they certainly wouldn’t have gambled on a FIVE lap run on softs to try and set a time.

    1. Sorry but it’s not allowed to change a car after going out in qualy.
      He was stuck with his setup as soon as he went to do a run in Q1.

      1. Isn’t it allowed to change the car through the whole qualifying session, until the final run?

        1. @goodtimes76 The parc ferme rule starts in that moment when a car comes out of the pits in qualifying

      2. Well they could always break parc ferme and modify the car…meaning he would start from the pitlane. Given where he is, that’s not a huge penalty if they think the gain would be worth it.

    2. That’s an interesting take and it can be looked at both ways.
      They could “accept” their fate as you said or try things at the risk to lose more. But I think that this daring approach is also the one that brings data in and allow them to push their development, get on top of their issues and raise their game eventually.

      This will be an intriguing year to follow Mercedes progress and evolution. Luckily we still have 2 teams battling on top and not a lonely runner. This might also play into Mercedes over the course of the season as Ferrari and RedBull might share the big points to start with.

      For me Mercedes and McLaren are the two teams to follow down their development path as both teams seem to have potential but big struggle. In a year where things might change rapidly, they could well move up or down the order as they go forward with their tests/findings.

    3. Your comment strikes me as extreme bias. What does arrogance have to do with anything? If you see that your car is struggling at a circuit relative to others, you change your setup. Every team on the grid does this. It just so happens that at this point in the season, the Mercedes has a small operating window and is very sensitive to setup changes. Nothing else to see here, move along.

    4. i see no ‘arrogance’. Mercedes have no choice but to use practice and qualifying to test their car’s evolving set up. They will continue to do this until they get it better.

      They certainly can’t test on a home track and they can’t test in a wind tunnel. The best they can do is simulate in software and test whenever they can legally put the car on a track.

      Their “low hanging fruits” remain theory until proved.

  2. That transcript tells me this was on Hamilton and nothing to do with the car, he never mentioned once it being undriveable.

    It has finally dawned on him how good Russell is, he was flabbergasted when told he was 7 tenths down in the first sector.

    I feel this is going to be a painful retirement for Hamilton.

    1. Dont you get it. They are both testing diffent set ups, to get the widest range of results. They are litterally using practice and qualifying to test the car. Hamilton had a specific range of setups to test, whilst Russell had a different range. This is necessary so they get the widest range of information.

      What don’t you understand about ““We’re still experimenting with set-ups to find out where the sweet spot of the car is””

  3. Excuses, excuses. The Merc was good enough for Q3, and GR proved it. Maybe they should sack their useless number 2 driver and find someone who can make at least Q2

    1. Clearly isn’t an excuse, but you can tell yourself that if it makes you feel better for some reason.

    2. There’s also the local politics to consider.

      Those out there, given what Hamilton has had to say, might consider his winning or doing as well, as adding fuel to the tinderbox they have out there.

      IMO The sooner Hamilton is out of that part of the world, and its influence on F1, the better.

  4. Mercedes have a history of building wolverines. A beast of a car with pace but one that cannot be controlled.
    As a Ferrari fan I witnessed this difference in 2017 and 2018 during qualifying onboards where it seemed Kimi was driving with one hand compared to the Merc where the respective driver was wrestling with the car
    Even on Jeddah I could see Sainz and Leclerc smoothly turning the wheel during qualifying

  5. Most of the times in the past Lewis was able to copy the setup of the second driver.
    With rosberg and bottas that happened often.
    He does not know George well enough to go down that road.
    Result a totally screwed up quali.
    More important wad the level of engineer support he needed. Listening to the on-board I never heard so much directives how to drive the car. It was like training a rookie for his first outing.

    1. erikje,
      After the first 2 races of the 2014 season. Rosberg didn’t have an answer to Lewis’s pace in both Australia and Malaysia and in Bahrain when was close to Hamilton’s pace, it was discovered later that he used a powerful engine mode banned by Mercedes for obvious reasons.

      Rosberg got the team to prepare him a detailed study about Hamilton’s performance and where he was quicker than him which unnerved Hamilton who stated in Bahrain “Someone in the team did a huge study on my pace in Malaysia. And since I arrived in Bahrain, Nico had a big document of all the places I was quick and used that to his advantage. So I will do the same for the next round in China and hope I can capitalise”.

      The only driver that Hamilton used to study and his data helped him to develop was Fernando Alonso and that was in 2007 when Hamilton was a rookie. Repeating the same sentence over and over again won’t make it true. Rosberg himself has admitted that he used to copy Lewis’s set up and study his telemetry.
      I’m a long time Hamilton detractor by the way :)

      1. I don’t know who copied who’s setup and frankly I don’t care.

        But as a team boss/owner, wouldn’t you want to have your driver’s work together as a team to maximise the points? Just like the whole team is working together?
        I know the primary competition for a driver is the team mate, but not maximising possible performance for the team seems very selfish.

        If I would be the team owner and I’m paying these drivers millions or tens of millions per year and I would see such selfish behaviour, the driver would be out no matter how many points he brings in. It’s also about the points lost because of this behaviour.

        Just my 2 cents.

      2. Yes the opposite happened also.
        No denying there.
        But not to the extent Lewis needs.

      3. @tifoso1989 dont feed erijke. He’s been on an anti hamilton anti toto anti merc brigade since he has joined here last year. Just let him be.

        1. @hatebreeder
          The problem that I myself don’t like Hamilton, Mercedes, Toto for obvious reasons. Though erikje was talking nonsense and rewriting history…

    2. Really? All these people who are in the know, and the driver themselves, have been keeping this one very quiet.
      Amazing when you think about it. Alonso, Rosberg, Bottas who are all top drivers with their own unique styles, obviously setting up their cars to suit that style; then watch Ham jump in to basically their car and regularly beat them. That’s pretty impressive driving from Ham.
      You have spoilt the Leclerc/Max battle for me now. I’ll be watching today knowing that if Ham was in either one of their cars he would be faster than them.
      I wouldn’t have believed that if you hadn’t told me.

      1. Believing in fairytales is good for you. Do not loose your fantasies.
        You will need them!

        1. No I don’t. Nor do I believe in Father Christmas or any of the 4000 or so gods people bang on about. Although I’m not sure what that has to do with your statement that Ham can match and beat Alonso as a rookie using Alonso’s setup, and that he can beat Rosberg and Bottas regularly using theirs.

          Although you seem to be saying now that Hamilton with all his years of experience cannot beat Max or Charles with their set up , but as a rookie it was a piece of cake to do that to Alonso.

          What a low opinion of Alonso you must have.

          1. I feel it all comes down to flexibility and adaptability. Charles en Max had to fight their car the last decade, while Lewis could more cruise it. Next to F1 Charles and Max and many of the youngsters drive different cars during time off, being for fun or more competitive. Next to that some compete online in sim races and a few are actually very good at it. It all are reasons they will get to grip with the new cars more quickly. Grosjean once made the remark he couldnt imagine driving online or something else as it would make it difficult for him to revert to his F1 car a few days later. Apparently there is a bunch of younger guys that don’t feel bothered by it at all. As Max always says ‘I need three laps in a car to know what I can an cannot do with it’. Lewis is getting older and there is simply a generation gap here. But he will come to grips with the car, I am sure.

          2. so keeping your fantasy and adding dome things i never said seems even better for you.
            The big advantage is you can keep talking and discussing with yourself..
            Be my guest ;)

    3. Listening to the on-board I never heard so much directives how to drive the car.

      The transcript (on this site) of the Verstappen Engineer radio for Bahrain was a long way toward a fly-by-wire.

      Be honest, how many of the drivers are not chatting their way through qualy and the race looking for a little something extra?

      LH is asking where to concentrate on changes, not what changes

      1. The ver transcript was extensive indeed. But compared with the Lewis guidance it looked like a leaflet compared with the bible.

    4. Are you going to post this drivel on every article like this? Just because you post something 1000x doesn’t make it true.

  6. With rosberg and bottas that happened often.

    You are forgetting ALO who was serially copy-pasted

  7. The Mercedes’ porpoising issues are quite severe and with this track being so high speed it’s going to exasperate the problem (from what I’ve seen porpoising happens at high speed so if you’re on a track where you’re at high speed for longer you’ll naturally get more porpoising). I imagine Hamilton and Russell went different ways on the set up to try and minimize the problem with Russell’s setup more or less working while Hamilton’s didn’t give him enough confidence in the car (which is as important for a first race rookie as it is for a 7 times champion).
    Until Mercedes gets a hang of the porpoising issues they’re likely to keep having problems like this. Even still the fact remains that only a fool underestimates Lewis Hamilton.

    1. +1 Agree 100%

  8. I see its the same repetitive nonsense that Lewis uses his partners setup. Saying it over and over wont make it any more true or factual.

    1. Whilst I agree with you that saying things over and over does not necessarily make them true and I certainly have no opinion on this specific matter of set up, I do know that saying things over and over to make them true is actually working and THE key (British) media and (Mercedes) team PR department instrument nowadays

  9. The team have made no secret from the start of the season of the challenge ahead, this weekend it didn’t go according to plan.

    Hamilton can setup a car, Merc cars have always been “divas”. This one might be the biggest of them all. Not worried for Mercs or Hamilton, it’ll come good eventually.

    Under estimating them would be foolish.

Comments are closed.

BonningtonOkay Lewis unfortunate that is us P16. If you just keep on top of that delta and go strat mode one.
HamiltonSo sorry, guys.
BonningtonNo problem Lewis.