Mercedes explain Hamilton’s poor Silverstone sprint start

Date published: July 25 2021 - Jamie Woodhouse

Lewis Hamilton

Mercedes chief technical director James Allison has explained Lewis Hamilton’s issues off the line during sprint qualifying.

By topping qualifying on Friday, Hamilton earned himself P1 on the grid for Formula 1’s first staging of sprint qualifying, but a slow start allowed Max Verstappen to take the lead into Turn 1, a lead which the Dutchman would go on to covert into pole for the British Grand Prix.

And come the main event on Sunday it was Valtteri Bottas’ turn for a poor getaway from P3 on the grid, with the Finn dropping behind Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and McLaren’s Lando Norris.

As Allison pointed out, starts are particularly tricky to nail, but he would explain why Hamilton struggled in that department come sprint qualifying, considering that Mercedes have regarded starts as a strength this season.

British Grand Prix sprint qualifying start

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“We didn’t have poor starts across the weekend as in every start was poor. In fact, if you looked at Lewis’s start in the main event at the start of the Grand Prix, that was a pretty useful start but it was definitely not one of our better weekend for starts,” Allison said in a Mercedes debrief video after Silverstone.

“We were certainly far more hit and miss than we would like to be. If you look at our performance in starts as a whole, we are normally one of the better teams and so this weekend was a little disappointing.

“I think perhaps one of the ways that it is easiest to explain the general problem is just to talk specifically through the worst start we did this weekend, which was Lewis’s start in the sprint qualifying race on the Saturday. He had done all that good work on Friday, got himself up at the front of the grid, only to see that evaporate with a very lacklustre start on the Saturday.

“How did that happen? Well, in general when you do a start you are trying to arrive at your grid slot with your tyres at a temperature that is a little bit higher than you want when the lights go out, because you know that you are going to sit there for several seconds while the rest of the grid forms behind you.

“Lewis did lots of burnouts, got the tyre temperature up high, in fact he got it higher than we had recommended in the burnouts and was then sitting on the grid with the tyres cooling as we waited for the grid to form behind us.

“Good job that he got it higher than we had recommended because actually by the time everyone was ready behind him, his tyres had cooled sufficiently that they were actually a little bit lower than the target temperature that we had aimed for.

“A bit below where we wanted, so then when Lewis let the clutch out at the start, hitting by the way in the process exactly the target that he had been set, instead of the wheels biting into the road and gripping it perfectly, because the tyres were just a little bit too cold, the tyres instead of gripping the road perfectly they started to spin slightly.

“That always gives the driver an unnerving feeling because if the tyres keep spinning, the car simply will not accelerate. When the driver lets go of the clutch, he lets go to the specific target, the car is supposed to just leap off into the distance but the clutch is not fully let go at that point, the driver is still holding the clutch at the target.

“So Lewis did that, hit his target, the wheels lit up and Lewis then because the wheels were spinning, wanted to hold the clutch in that slipping position just a bit longer than normal, he hung on to the clutch for just about a heartbeat or two longer than he should have done in response to that original wheel slip and by hanging on to that clutch just a heartbeat or two too long, he underdelivered power from the engine and as a result people came streaming around him.”