Lewis Hamilton says that Mercedes’ positive start to the season, with a pole and two podiums, is much better than he expected, but believes there is a lot more to come from the Brackley team.
Pre-season Hamilton had managed expectations carefully, not wanting to over promise and under deliver given how poor Mercedes were in the second half of 2012. However he is right there in the championship with the group of title contenders, Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso, on 40 points.
On the eve of the Bahrain Grand Prix, Hamilton has been speaking extensively about the work team principal Ross Brawn has done behind the scenes in the last 18 months to restructure the team and believes that their current competitiveness is down to that.
“I remember meeting with Ross (Brawn) before I signed; he came to my house and we sat down and he told me all the plans and I have been in the sport long enough to understand what he was talking about. I could see that Mercedes were en route to making some very positive changes – that they were really, really determined to turn things around. He showed me what potential there was in the car and I thought ‘wow, this sounds good’. Of course I didn’t know how good it would be and, to be honest, I never expected it to be as good as it is now. I thought it would be a slow but steady improvement – but it is way faster than I expected.”
He has noticeably been talking Brawn up recently as rumours continue to swirl that Brawn will be on his way out of the team at some point, with Paddy Lowe believed to be on his way there next season.
Hamilton believes that the infrastructure changes the team made during 2012 have a big part to play in their current competitiveness. One of them was upgrading the wind tunnel at Brackley to 60%, which took away development time on the 2012 car, but is helping them now. As a team through its various guises of BAR, Honda, Brawn and Mercedes the team has got lost on design and development several times, but Hamilton feels that the plan Ross Brawn and his team have put in place will lead them to the winners’ circle,
“I think that they’ve been lost before. They have even said that. The aerodynamics, the wind tunnel – people were in the wrong place – so they took a step back and tried to analyse everything and move things into the right position. The car has just been on a positive curve since they changed the wind tunnel – since they made all these changes within the last half year – and they’ve been improving at a very serious rate.”
The Mercedes is a fast car, it ended the pre-season testing period looking very competitive and Hamilton was on pole with it in China, a repeat of Mercedes 2012 success there. But they were unable to repeat the win as the car is still to heavy on its tyres. A careful look at the lap times from Shanghai shows that the lap times were dropping off at the end of all Hamilton’s stints and he did not have the potential to pit when Lotus did and make it to the finish. So he accepted losing second place, but retained a podium finish ahead of Vettel. This showed an acceptance of their situation in races, which still needs to be improved to match the benchmark Lotus and Ferrari cars.
Mercedes has the hydraulically linked suspension system known as FRIC, which so far is 2013’s must-have gizmo and this helps, but there is still work to be done for them to win races. Mercedes was very competitive in Monaco last year and Hamilton is always very fast there, so that looks like a good bet for the team’s first serious crack at winning a race. He could have been close in Malaysia had he not lost time driving into the wrong pit garage early in the race.
Read the whole Hamilton Q&A here: http://www.formula1.com/news/interviews/2013/4/14473.html
Hamilton said that being significantly faster than his old team McLaren, “is probably the biggest surprise – where we are in relation to them.
“The McLaren at the end of last year was awesome – the quickest car on the grid – and usually if you have the quickest car and there are not massive changes in the regulations you carry that into the next year. So it should, again, be a quick and awesome car, but for some reason – I don’t know why – it hasn‘t happened that way. But that is not my concern anymore!”