Lewis Hamilton looking in the wrong place with Mercedes ‘still fooling themselves’

Oliver Harden
Lewis Hamilton looks downbeat at the 2024 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix with a prominent Mercedes logo alongside him

Lewis Hamilton has endured a disappointing start to his final season with Mercedes

Former F1 technical director Gary Anderson believes Mercedes “are still fooling themselves” in 2024 with Lewis Hamilton showing no understanding of how to fix the W15 car’s problems.

Having been restricted to just a single victory across 2022/23, Mercedes had hoped to return to victory contention in 2024 with the new-look W15.

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Despite much pre-season optimism, Mercedes struggled at the first two rounds of the season in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia with Hamilton calling for “big changes” after the race in Jeddah.

Hamilton, who announced last month that he will join Ferrari in 2025, has been a vocal critic of Mercedes’ development direction over recent seasons, claiming after the opening race of last year that the team’s technical department had ignored his advice over the design of the doomed W14.

Writing in his column for the Telegraph newspaper after the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, however, former technical director Anderson has accused Hamilton of having a limited understanding of what it takes to produce a competitive car in F1’s current ground effect era.

He said: “After the race Hamilton said that big changes need to be made to the car.

“He mentioned that the other teams around them still have different concepts, but Hamilton is talking about what you can see.

“The critical parts on these cars is the underfloor and Hamilton does not know what the other teams are doing there. What you can see is not necessarily what makes the car work.

“He seems to be of the frame of mind that if Mercedes make their car look like a Red Bull it will go as fast as one – it will not. The W15 needs a lot more work than the visual concept but the worry is that they still do not understand what a ground-effect car needs.

“The fact that again, as in 2022, both drivers have diverged in their set-ups as the weekend went on is not a good sign.

“Hamilton has gone back to his 2022 approach of trying to find the magic bullet with set-up that he hopes will find half a second out of nowhere.

“They are clearly still experimenting with their car but I do not think the solution – and a performance leap from nowhere – is in the car any more.”

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Anderson feels Mercedes’ start to the season has eerie similarities with the last two seasons, claiming the Silver Arrows’ approach to a race weekend – with the W15 showing a turn of pace in practice before falling back as the weekend progresses – is indicative of a team who are “still fooling themselves.”

He explained: “Two races in and their performances suggest they are still suffering from an inability to overcome its limitations. It feels like a repeat of 2022 and 2023.

“The team need to be realistic about their car and must wake up to the reality that they have a problem.

“In some ways they are still fooling themselves and this goes down to how they approach the weekend. Throughout Bahrain and Saudi Arabia they have looked competitive in the early practice sessions before dropping back.

“This suggests they are running the car lighter on Friday in order to give themselves confidence. Their rivals push harder as the weekend progresses and Mercedes drop back to their true position.

“On raw pace alone in Jeddah they were the fifth-fastest team. In the race and using the same tyre strategy George Russell finished 40 seconds behind race winner Max Verstappen. Lewis Hamilton finished 46 seconds off Verstappen, on a slightly different strategy of a long stint on the mediums and then the softs for the final 13 laps.

“Neither strategy worked for them. That is nearly a second a lap in race trim and they were also nearly a second off [Verstappen] over one lap in qualifying too.

“They must go back to doing their homework between races in a more effective way than just running their car light on fuel and initially looking and feeling in a good place.

“They will not learn anything this way, it is just a deceptive and short-lived confidence boost.”

With bouncing also returning to Mercedes at the start of 2024, Anderson feels the team continue to lack an understanding of F1’s current rules compared to Red Bull and customer outfit McLaren, who recovered from a slow start to last season to emerge as the World Champions’ most consistent threat.

He said: “Bouncing blighted Mercedes in 2022 and stopping that is all about managing the underfloor of the car aerodynamically.

“As the car goes faster the load increases and the car gets closer to the ground. The main problem here is that Mercedes do not have a philosophy to get the car to work other than lowering the car into the ground – but this brings about the bouncing.

“They simply do not have the right aerodynamic approach to getting the underfloor to work.

“They are a long way short of Red Bull and even McLaren. McLaren’s car is as close to the ground as any other but it skims across the track rather than banging into it which means they get more consistent and usable downforce.

“A loose rear end also troubled Hamilton. The way the Jeddah circuit is set up, the last thing you want is the rear end stepping out at 190mph.

“The W15 was supposed to have solved the ‘spiteful’ back end of its predecessors and they even moved the driver’s cockpit back so he had more feel of the rear. That does not appear to be the case.

“Hamilton felt he needed to run a higher rear-wing level because the rear was too ‘spooky’ for him. That is why the McLaren felt like it was in another league in the fast corners.

“Mercedes need to come up with a solution to achieve front-end grip in the slower corners without sacrificing the rear-end grip in the fast corners.

“Every comment they make suggests that they do not have this, that the car is constantly on a knife edge balance-wise.

“What Mercedes and Hamilton want is an upgrade like McLaren had in 2023 that propelled them to be Red Bull’s closest challengers in the second half of the season.

“McLaren showed that a big jump is possible. They started that season poorly but knew exactly what they needed to fix and how.

“Mercedes are still a way off having that knowledge. I would not expect much to change for them in Australia, Japan or China.”

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