‘Something is wrong’ – Mercedes admit Lewis Hamilton gamble ‘massively backfired’

Thomas Maher
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 2024 Australian Grand Prix.

Lewis Hamilton struggled with the handling of his Mercedes during free practice for the 2024 Australian Grand Prix.

Lewis Hamilton could only manage the 18th-quickest time in second practice in Melbourne, but there is an explanation…

The Mercedes driver finished in 18th place at the end of Friday’s second practice session, with the seven-time World Champion clearly struggling with the handling of his W15.

Lewis Hamilton setup changes ‘massively backfired’

Hamilton finished in ninth with a 1:18.7 in the first practice session, only to fail to make progress in the second session as his fastest FP2 time was a tenth slower than what he’d managed in FP1.

The British driver had also struggled to keep his car on the asphalt on occasion, with several wayward moments in second practice as he radioed in to say he felt that something was wrong after asking about the lap times being achieved by other drivers.

Speaking after the day’s running, Mercedes’ team boss Toto Wolff shed some light on Hamilton’s struggles, revealing that setup experiments aimed at trying to unlock more performance from the W15 had ended up taking them in the wrong direction.

“Well, we have achieved experiments, but we haven’t unlocked performance,” he told Sky F1, when asked about the experiments being carried out in practice – something which engineer Andrew Shovlin had indicated would happen in the lead-up to the weekend.

“In the second session, I think we’ve gone through a quite dramatic setup change for Lewis. And that has massively backfired.

“But this is why we’re having those sessions.”

With George Russell finishing sixth and almost a full second ahead of his team-mate, Wolff said the single-lap pace of the W15 isn’t looking particularly strong overall.

“[On] the other side, it was a bit better. But we’re lacking performance, I think, on a single lap,” he said.

“If he finished that lap, we would have been better but, overall, it wasn’t a good day.”

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Mercedes turning to experimentation with setups is very reminiscent of the struggles the Brackley-based team have been fighting against ever since the start of the current ground-effect regulations introduced in 2022.

While the W15 has earned the praise of the drivers far more than its two predecessors, the performance level is extremely similar – but Wolff said he believes there is far more potential to be unlocked once the setup is nailed down.

“If I would say that I’m not frustrated, it would be not the truth,” he said, when asked about the constant experimentation.

“Certainly, we are, because we’re trying so much in all directions, but we don’t seem to have found the silver bullet yet, which helps to get us in the right direction.

“But we’ve got to keep trying. We’ve seen performance in this car before, I just don’t want to go back and say, ‘We’re just not good at these regulations’, because we have everything we need in order to get on top of that. And we will.”

Hamilton, speaking after he got out of his car, said: “I obviously don’t feel great. We had one of the worst sessions I’ve probably had for a long time.

“FP1 generally felt quite good – the car in FP1, run one, actually felt the best it’s ever felt – but it just got worse and worse.

“We made some big changes into FP2 and it was tough.

“After that session, I feel the least confident I’ve ever felt with this car.

“But there are positives from that [like] that FP1 run that we did.”

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