Lewis Hamilton has never been outqualified by a team mate four races in succession. Here in Montreal, arguably his most successful track, where he has won three times, he knows he has to regain the upper hand over Nico Rosberg, author of pole at the last three events.
And it is going to be in the braking that he will do it. Montreal is all about the brakes. And a lot of Hamilton’s speed has always come from his ability on the brakes.
“The braking has been a bit of a killer for me this year,” Hamilton admits in his BBC Sport website column today. “It’s harder to get temperature into the tyres with this car than I’ve experienced in the past. My qualifying laps haven’t been that bad, but I don’t think my tyres have ever been ready in the first quarter of the lap this year and a lot of time goes in that first part of the lap.
“Braking is important because it is where everyone gains all the time. I’ve always been the latest of the late brakers, but you also have to modulate the brakes through the corner to control the car.
“If you don’t have the feel you need in that control zone, then you don’t have the confidence to attack the braking zones because you’re worried about locking the wheels or the stopping power. And if you damage these tyres, they don’t come back.
“I’ve been working in the simulator, using different techniques. There are a lot you can use: for example, lift and coast in a race situation, so instead of braking at 100m, you lift at 120m and brake at 80m; or later downshifts.
“How you slide the car, how you progress the throttle, how you brake, all these things can change how the tyres work. My team-mate Nico Rosberg seems to be very good at quite a few of those. He is no pushover. He is doing a fantastic job and I have to do better.
“Because of this I’m braking earlier than I would be otherwise, so that’s where I’m losing all my time. Even so, I’m still there in the mix. There is a lot of time lost on the brakes – in Monaco I lost 0.3 seconds in the first sector just on brakes and I only qualified 0.1secs off the pace.”
So here is JA on F1 technical adviser Mark Gillan’s analysis of what is actually going on with Hamilton, Rosberg and the brakes.
“It’s an interesting topic; drivers are very sensitive to the the feel and modulation of the brake pedal and if they don’t have confidence in the system they can lose confidence as drivers.
“You tend to find that a driver gets used to a master cylinder, pads, calipers and set up and some teams have exclusive deals, for example McLaren. Other teams don’t have access to those materials due to the other teams’ exclusive deals.
Lewis Hamilton will have got used to a brake set up at McLaren and probably hasn’t experienced Brembo products, which is what the Mercedes is opetimised around. Now he has gone back to using Carbon Industrie materials, while Rosberg continues with Brembo
“As an aerodynamicist it’s not ideal to be trying to optimise a car around two different brake set ups. The brake ducts have different requirements and to have to split the effort between two different brake manufacturers is a pain and is not good for thermal management, which is such a big part of the game with these Pirelli tyres.
“The vent patterns through the discs are there to keep the disc in the ideal operating window so you don’t get excess wear on the discs and pads. There is a lot of detail in those vent patterns and the rest of the geometry, the brake ducts and so on are designed around them. If the drivers use two different vent patterns and discs then what is happening in Hamilton’s car will not be the same as Rosberg’s.
“Remember that the brake heat is used to generate temperature in the Pirelli tyres, which are very temperature sensitive. It might only be a difference of two or three degrees, but that’s enough to mean that Hamilton drops a tenth of a second in the first sector to Rosberg, if he’s driving the car which is optimised around the Brembo brakes.
“We are dealing with very fine margins here.
“Maybe Rosberg is getting better temperature into his tyres because the system is better, maybe it’s because his own techniques. Only Mercedes would know.
“But I would hazard a guess that Hamilton is trying to get better feel and confidence in the pedal and so has gone back to Carbon Industrie material and maybe the system isn’t yet optimised around his geometry yet.”