MPH: Hamilton urges 'greatest' Mercedes development drive. But which direction?


It's Hammer-time for Mercedes' factory staff, as its star F1 driver calls for an intense six-months of work to catch Red Bull. The team says that it knows where to focus its efforts but, writes Mark Hughes, Lewis Hamilton isn't saying quite the same thing



Because Lewis Hamilton wears his heart on his sleeve, often his comments straight out of the car to the TV cameras reveal his real thoughts more than his more considered words half an hour later. Two years into a less than fully competitive Mercedes, Hamilton clearly has concerns about whether the team now understand why, especially given that he’s just signed up for another two years.

Take this, fresh out the car after qualifying at Suzuka: “I have no idea where the car is going to be next year, but we’re a long, long way away.

“We’ve got to hope for the next six months to be the greatest six months of development that we’ve ever had to close that gap and to be really banging on the door.

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“The evidence is there at McLaren, and we can’t turn a blind eye to that — to look at what they’ve done and go in that direction. That is the direction.

“But I truly believe my team can do it, and we’ve always been great at putting downforce on the car. It’s just that, with the way our car currently works, adding downforce doesn’t work, it just makes it bounce more.

“Hopefully with a change in philosophy, we’ll be back to where the team deserves because this is a world championship team, we still are an amazing team. I have absolute faith in everyone but decisions that are made in this period of time are critical for our trajectory.”

Yes, there’s a superficial logic in what he’s saying: ‘Mercedes has followed quite a different concept to Red Bull in the first two years of this regulation set and Red Bull is far ahead. McLaren has recently followed a very Red Bull-like development path and its car’s competitiveness has been transformed, leapfrogging it past everyone but Red Bull. Therefore, that’s clearly the way to go.’ Maybe it is. But the complexity of the aerodynamics of these cars means copying the concept isn’t the same as understanding it – and if it’s not understood, it probably won’t work.


Complex aerodynamic airflows can’t simply be copied by another team

Peter Fox/Getty Images

As McLaren boss Andrea Stella commented recently, “If you see the car from underneath, you see that nothing is flat. It is one of the most sophisticated and, from an engineering point of view, one of the most fascinating I think I’ve ever seen. The vortices under the car, when you see them in CFD, every vent sheds little vortices, they kind of coalesce, it’s mind-blowing the sophistication.” That’s where the magic lies and the eye-catching sidepod shape is just a facilitator for the floor. So just switching sidepod shapes won’t necessarily do much.

Here’s trackside engineering chief Andrew Shovlin’s words when asked about Hamilton’s comments: “Lewis and George together are always giving us feedback on where the weakness is and whilst they might be identifying different causes of it, we know that, fundamentally, the car doesn’t have enough stability.

“We’re certainly not clinging on to any concepts that we have had before”

“We know that they don’t have the confidence to just throw it into a high-speed corner, and not have some concern that the rear is going to slide more than they want and be a bit of a challenge. Whilst you might see different comments in the press, the two of them are very aligned on where the weaknesses are, and where we need to improve it. We can see the GPS from other cars and that all ties in. So, you can build a picture of where you need to develop.

“We’re certainly not clinging on to any concepts that we have had before. We’re very open-minded. We’ve had a pretty chastening couple of years, and we are a team that’s working very hard to try and get back to the front. We are changing the car quite considerably for next year, but whether or not we can solve all the issues that we’ve got on the handling, that will depend on a number of projects delivering. Those projects are underway and they’re not complete. We’ve got some good directions to try and improve that.”

So when they talk of next year’s car, are Mercedes and Hamilton on a different page? Or are they saying the same thing in different languages?