A lot of people are confused by the performance of Lewis Hamilton in the Chinese Grand Prix.
Rain is a great leveller in Formula 1. Talented drivers who do not have the car to compete in normal conditions can shine on a wet track and we have seen plenty of that over the years.
Wet races in the last couple of years seem to have been dominated either by Sebastien Vettel or by Hamilton. Hamilton delivered his masterpiece at Silverstone last July, but in Shanghai this weekend he had a very different kind of race, which showed that having the right car is just as important in the wet as the dry, especially with these 2009 cars.
He started brightly, attacking in the opening laps and making up places. He passed Raikkonen for 6th place on the first racing lap, then Trulli for 5th, then dropped back to 10th. He passed Kovalainen, Raikkonen again and was 4th on lap 24, with pace not too far off Button’s. He pitted on lap 33 and at that time his pace was comparable with drivers who were already on new wet tyres. So the tyres held up quite well in the first stint and all was going well. Perhaps the two safety car periods had given his tyres the right treatment.
But he pushed very hard in the opening laps of the second stint, fuel adjusted he wasn’t far off Vettel’s times. On lap 35 for example, he did a 1m55.153, a second faster than Button despite being significantly heavier and only 1.3 secs slower than Vettel (who was about to pit) despite his fuel weight slowing him by 2 secs/lap.
However he had taken too much out of the tyres. His pace dropped off after lap 44 and a spin on lap 49 lost him fifth place to team mate Heikki Kovalainen.
Here Lewis frankly admits that he didn’t deliver the kind of performance he expects of himself in those conditions. Perhaps the way the tyres held up in the first stint fooled him into thinking they’d be okay in the second. He didn’t think his way through the race..
That wasn’t what people have come to expect from you in the wet
“I love racing in the wet but I would say that was one of my worst wet weather performances. I made lots of mistakes. It was tricky out there, I was pushing hard, had quite good pace early on when I had some grip, but too many mistakes.
“You know me, I generally have good wet races, this one was incredibly tough. It was almost too dangerous to drive, you saw lots of people sliding off. I don’t have enough downforce on this car anyway, so it was a struggle but as least I scored some good points for the team.”
Did you push the car harder than it wanted to be pushed?
“All weekend I’ve been pushing that car beyond its limits and beyond what it is really capable of. Today when the tyres dropped off, I wasn’t able to avoid the oversteer moments.”
Why so many spins?
“There is nothing wrong with the car except the lack of downforce. I guess the guys with more downforce had no such a problem. My tyres were finished quite early so I was struggling with them. It was fun at the beginning when I had some grip. I don’t know if it’s the car or my driving style but it seems to destroy the tyres very early on. I remember I had just come out (of the pits) and they said I had 20 laps to go and my front left tyre was gone after 5 laps.”
What do you think about the performance of Sebastien Vettel?
“Congratulations to him, he did a fantastic job today. They have been very fast all weekend, so clearly they have one of the best cars.”
How long before you have a car which will allow you to race for a win?
“It’s going to be a good four or five races, it’s going to be some time. The guys are doing a fantastic job, so we’ve got to keep pushing.”