Damon Hill reveals ‘disconnected’ and ‘misleading’ theory on Mercedes F1 struggles

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

Damon Hill suspects Mercedes could be being misled by its own data.

Damon Hill has a hunch that Mercedes’ struggles to unlock the performance of their W15 come down to a disconnect between their simulation tools and reality.

While Mercedes changed their design direction for 2024 by introducing a very different W15 after admitting the concept chosen at the start of 2022 was the wrong one, the team haven’t yet appeared more competitive.

Damon Hill: Mercedes is missing a trick

Speaking on the F1 Nation podcast, 1996 F1 World Champion Damon Hill broached the topic of Mercedes’ struggles to join in the fight at the very front, following a tough Australian Grand Prix weekend in which the team went without any points.

Both Lewis Hamilton and George Russell were in the points-paying positions when they suffered their misfortunes, with Hamilton retiring early on with an engine failure, and Russell crashing out in the closing stages following “potentially dangerous” driving from Fernando Alonso as the pair squabbled over sixth place.

With Mercedes’ team boss Toto Wolff admitting the squad is trying to figure out how best to set up the W15, which data suggests has plenty of potential – backed up by the occasional flash of speed on track.

“Toto has agreed with this argument that they actually are scratching their head and then, before Melbourne, I think he was saying they haven’t taken a stupid pill or something like that,” Hill said, when asked if he believes Mercedes is actually falling backward rather than progressing.

“He’s actually sort of saying, ‘Well, if anyone’s got any good ideas, then come and talk to me!’

“I mean, that’s the state of play there at Mercedes, isn’t it?

“They are missing a trick, they’ve been given three goals at this and they still haven’t quite worked something out. The car looks brutal to drive, it looks always on the edge.

“When they try and get performance out of it, it gets very bouncy and very harsh.

“There’s something they’re not quite getting. But, as Toto said himself, ‘I can’t fire myself, I’m part owner of the team’.

“So he understands the situation. But it is sticky there, because Lewis has decided to get out of there and take his chances elsewhere, it’s not exactly a huge vote of confidence in the direction of travel for Mercedes.”

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Damon Hill: Is the information Mercedes is getting actually misleading them?

With Wolff and Mercedes’ technical director James Allison pointing to possible correlation issues between what their software tells them should be happening, versus the reality of what’s happening on track, Hill said he suspects the information being gathered during experiments may be misleading the team in terms of setup.

“I’ve started to think they’ve got something disconnected here because they keep coming out with optimistic statements about their car,” Hill said.

“They believe they’re going in the right direction and, when the car gets on the track, it doesn’t work. The likelihood is, and I’m not an engineer – I’m an ex-racing driver – these things influence these race teams and the development of cars, particularly now that they have so much restriction on testing, and actual running of the car at a track.

“So they’re limited in doing real-life experiments. They have to do it using simulators. They have to use computer fluid dynamics. So this computer is totally simulated, then they have wind tunnels but what they talk about is correlation.

“Is the information they’re getting at the factory in their experiments, actually misleading them?  There’s something missing in the calculation when it comes to reality, something goes wrong.

“I think, if [Allison] is saying that, then that just reassures me that my hunch was also right. If they start working on that, I think they’re gonna find something because this is so important to be able to do the theory.

“And then the practical experiment works and follows it up because, so far, it hasn’t been at all. The design team has been telling Toto, ‘This is great, this is gonna work’. And then it doesn’t.”

Podcast host Tom Clarkson said he suspects this ongoing issue with correlation may be why Hamilton has decided to start afresh in 2025, with the seven-time F1 World Champion switching to Ferrari.

“The question now is how do they sort out the problems with their simulation tools and how big a job is that?” Clarkson questioned.

“Maybe that’s why Lewis Hamilton decided to leave because he thought ‘Hang on a minute, the project to get Mercedes back to the front is even longer-term perhaps than we initially thought’,  because of the renewal of all the infrastructure back in Brackley.

“Maybe he lost patience. I guess also that the start of this season that Lewis is having, it’s the worst start to a season that he’s ever had – even worse than 2009 when he didn’t win a race at McLaren until the Hungarian Grand Prix in the middle of the season.”

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