Lewis Hamilton has been speaking today about McLaren’s race performances and the mismatch with their qualifying performances, which has been one of the mysteries of this 2012 season.
Hamilton has qualified on the front row five times in five races, although in China he had a gearbox penalty and in Barcelona he was demoted to the back of the grid for a fuel load irregularity. And yet the race pace hasn’t matched up to the qualifying pace and it’s left them chasing the game on Sundays. Of course pit stop errors have played their part in him not achieving better results, but it’s been noticeable that the pace hasn’t been as expected on race day, regardless of the pit stop problems.
“Of course looking at the qualifying results we’ve had for the five races we would have loved to have finished further up and we definitely need to improve to make sure we stay where we are or we move forwards,” he said. “We’ve started high up and finished a little bit further behind from where we started so we’ve gone backwards a little bit in most of the races, but we’re working very hard to make sure that doesn’t continue.”
Although the finger of blame has been pointed at the inconsistent behaviour of all the teams on the Pirelli tyres this year, with Hamilton’s team-mate Jenson Button in particular complaining a lot during races about the handling, another explanation doing the rounds among engineers in the pitlane is that fuel consumption may have something to do with it. With higher fuel consumption comes a need to carry a bit more fuel and this extra weight slows the car down by around 0.35 seconds per lap for every 10 extra kilos carried.
The banning this season of off throttle blown diffusers (where fuel is dumped into the cylinder even when the driver lifted off the throttle for corners, to create exhaust gas pressure for aerodynamic gains) the amount of fuel being used by the teams has reduced up to a point. But there are suggestions that the Mercedes engine is still using more fuel than others and this accounts for the drop off in performance on race day. As the grid is so tight, even a few tenths of a second per lap makes quite a difference.
Nico Rosberg has also yet to finish a race higher than his starting position.
If this is part of the problem, it should be less of a difference in Monaco, where the fuel load is one of the lowest of the season, as there is so little full throttle running.
Track position is king in Monaco, which is why qualifying well here is so important.