Lewis Hamilton worries the bouncing problems which had plagued Mercedes’ season for so long reared their ugly head again in Abu Dhabi on Saturday.
The Mercedes W13 had been the car arguably most affected by ‘porpoising’ earlier in the year, where the car’s floor would bottom out with the new ground-effect aerodynamics generating downforce by effectively ‘pulling’ the car down towards the track.
The team spent much of the season focusing on eradicating the issue, gradually improving their competitiveness at the same time, culminating in their first win – and a one-two finish – in Sao Paulo last time out, with George Russell becoming Formula 1’s newest winner in the process.
That pace was not replicated in Abu Dhabi qualifying, with Russell and Hamilton only able to lock out the third row for the season finale – almost seven tenths of a second down on Max Verstappen’s pole-position benchmark.
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said bluntly they could put their session in the “toilet” for their showing, and his seven-time former World Champion driver had not been expecting to be so far off the pace either.
“We thought this would be a difficult race for us, but through the weekend so far we weren’t looking like we were eight tenths down,” Hamilton admitted to Sky Sports F1 after the session.
“So it was a bit of a surprising qualifying just to be so far behind them – six tenths of that is just on the straights.
“But otherwise, I gave it everything and looking forward to the end of tomorrow.”
Bouncing was not the only problem facing Hamilton during the session, adding a braking problem saw his W13 take unwanted changes of direction when he was pulling towards the corners around Yas Marina.
“Well, bouncing is back with a vengeance,” Hamilton explained.
“Yeah, so bouncing’s back and that’s definitely losing us time. But otherwise, we are just pretty slow on the straights.
“But then I had some brake problems, we’ve had it most of the year, just with the brake discs separating in brake temperature.
“So when you hit the brake, the car pulls one direction. Like going into Turn 5, the car’s pulling to the right and it’s a left-hand corner, so it’s not ideal.”
Mercedes start behind both Ferrari drivers for the race, with the Silver Arrows holding an outside chance of overhauling the Scuderia for second place in the Constructors’ Championship – needing to outscore Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz by at least 20 points on Sunday.