Hamilton's F1 cockpit conundrum — so far forward, he's behind: MPH


Mercedes is pressing ahead with a major redesign of its 2023 F1 car — but Lewis Hamilton has identified an issue that can't be fixed so easily

Red Bull and Mercedes 2023 F1 car comparison

Side-on comparison clearly shows Hamilton sat further forward than Verstappen

Grand Prix Photo

Lewis Hamilton has been giving a little more detail on the difficulties he is experiencing with this year’s Mercedes, the W14. There are two components to his complaints, one in the basic dynamics of the car and the other in the feedback it is giving him. It is this latter point he was referring to a couple of races ago when he said he’d told the team last year the changes that needed to be made and they hadn’t listened to him.

He’s talking about where he sits within the car. The cockpit of the W14, just like that of its predecessor, is further forward than that of other cars. This is part of its aerodynamic concept, what has made it possible to expose its upper side impact structure and so use it to direct the airflow to the floor edges. But it also makes for an unusual feeling, as Hamilton explained: “We sit closer to the front wheels than all the other drivers. Our cockpit is too close to the front. When you’re driving you feel like you’re sitting on the front wheels, which is one of the worst feelings.

Related article

“What that does is it really changes the attitude of the car and how you perceive its movement. And it makes it harder to predict compared to when you’re further back and sitting more centred. It is just something I have really struggled with.”

Back in the day Nelson Piquet used to complain to Gordon Murray about the same thing in the very long, very cockpit-forwards Brabham BT48. When the rear slid, he was late feeling it. It’s compounded in the case of the Mercedes because of its dynamics – ie what it’s actually doing rather than just what it feels like. As Hamilton describes it, its centre of aero pressure (the aerodynamic equivalent of the weight distribution) is moving forwards a lot as it is braked, giving a sensation of rear instability. But as he comes off the brakes and the car levels out, the centre of pressure is moving a long way rearwards – too far, making it difficult to get good rotation into the corner. So it has the worst of both worlds: rear instability under braking but a reluctance then to turn. So more steering lock is needed which, when the car finally grips up, pivots the car into oversteer mid-corner.

Lewis Hamiltono on track in the Black Mercedes

Moving centre of pressure gives Hamilton the worst of both worlds


These traits make it extra important that the driver can accurately feel what the car is doing beneath him – yet that’s exactly what Hamilton isn’t getting because of the cockpit positioning. That’s the essence of his current problem with the car.

The generation of cars resulting from the ground effect regulations introduced last year all have a more rearwards centre of pressure. The throat of the venturi tunnels, where the underbody suction is at its peak, is somewhere just behind the driver’s bum. Previously, with the flat-bottom cars, the area of peak underfloor ground effect was at the leading edge of the floor, much further forwards. So when the car was braked, although the centre of pressure moved forwards, it didn’t do so by anything like the same amount as on these cars. It didn’t then move as far backwards when the car levelled out either.

From the archive

Red Bull has found a way of limiting the big swings in that centre of pressure, probably through its underfloor design and also with its extreme anti-dive front and anti-squat rear suspension geometry. And also, probably, by how effectively it seals the floor edges with the airflow being sucked through the undercut of the sidepods. The Mercedes is trying to create that effect with the downward-angled side impact bar and it would seem it’s a less robust mechanism, especially at low-medium speeds.

It’s going to be interesting to see what Mercedes can do now that it has recognised the problem. A sidepod redesign is expected, but the cockpit position is obviously a more fundamental feature of the car. That much, at least, Hamilton is stuck with for now.