Analysis: Mercedes F1 car more ‘peaky’ on set up, Hamilton’s Sochi struggles highlighted
Posted By: Editor   |  02 May 2017   |  12:50 pm GMT  |  70 comments

Mercedes may have found success at Sochi with one Silver Arrows driver winning, but Lewis Hamilton’s fourth-place finish is a head scratcher, which left fans and commentators wondering what had happened.

Even his qualifying sessions were marred by a lack of pace, with Hamilton’s time half a second off team-mate Valtteri Bottas who was running a similar set-up, with practice telling a similar story.

Early on into the race he asked his team “why is my car overheating, guys?” and his first-lap attempt to overtake Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen – a simple procedure given Raikkonen’s poor start – was laboured.

We have seen already that the Mercedes finds it more difficult to run in the wake of another car than the Ferrari which has more benign aerodynamics. And there seems to be something in the nature of the way the cars are set up that also plays into Ferrari’s hands when the softest Pirelli tyres are used.

The overheating issue forced Hamilton to run in clean air, maximising cooling airflow into the radiators, so running in a car’s wake was all but impossible and Hamilton held back.

“From probably, I don’t know what lap, five or whatever it was, I had to slow down and stay in fourth. Lots of turning down of the settings and unit. One of the cylinders was cutting [out] because of the temperature issue, so it was going to be fourth from very early on,” he said.

This may not have affected team-mate Bottas because he ran in cleaner air throughout the race, but puzzlingly, when Bottas hit traffic he didn’t complain of engine overheating and the freak issue was reserved only for Hamilton.

His swift manner of dealing with lapping backmarkers may have helped, but Hamilton’s problem ran deeper than just the engine.

Narrow set up window

Tyres don’t bite into the slick Sochi road as effectively as on other circuits, due to the slippery nature of the surface, so they need to be brought into their operating windows effectively and this weekend was another indication that the Ferrari has more bandwidth on the set up to suit the softer tyres than the Mercedes. Qualifying was further illustration of this;  Ferrari went for it after one out lap, Mercedes had a more complex regime involving two laps to prepare the tyres.

In the race, if these 2017 tyres are not operating in their ideal window, due to set up, then there will be a pace deficit of three or four tenths, which is what appears to have happened to Hamilton.

The upside for tyre management is that they just don’t wear as much – Mercedes’ champion Nico Rosberg managed to complete all but one lap on one set of tyres in 2014. On top of that tyre degradation on both the ultra soft and supersoft was just 0.03s per lap at the weekend, so there’s nothing to be done on strategy, which is one of the reasons Russia provided such a processional Grand Prix.

With temperatures on track higher than expected on Sunday, cooling became an issue for cars and tyres in some cases. Blisters formed on the left front tyre, which was the most stressed by the long left hand curve in Sector 1

After Ferrari qualified with a front-row lockout for the first time since 2008, Hamilton said “”I just wasn’t quick enough today. It was all in the last sector, I was losing half a second there. I’ve been struggling there all weekend with the balance and it’s been tough to utilise the tyres.”

It wasn’t just him, with Bottas echoing the fact that Ferrari managed keep the tyres in the narrow window of operating temperature. Raikkonen only had to do one out-lap before setting a qualifying time while the Mercedes drivers took two, along with most others on the grid.

Bottas managed to get the tyres in the sweet spot and was exceptionally fast in the opening stint on the UltraSofts.

Hamilton’s fastest lap of 1:38.398 came on lap 18 using ultra-softs, but it was a second slower than Bottas’.

Team boss Toto Wolff took some blame, having said at the end of the race, “[Bottas] struggled with a car that was not perfect towards the end but he kept it together. And Lewis, if you don’t put the tyre in the right window you’re struggling and we were unable to give him a car that was good enough today.”

What did you take away from the Russian Grand Prix and Hamilton’s fourth-place woes? Have your say in the comment section below or on our Facebook page.

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Renault just announced no engine upgrade till July. Up to ferrari now to battle mercedes.😏


Interesting insight to the handling characteristics of both cars. I do feel as if Mercedes have some low hanging fruit that could bring good performance gains if they can trim a few kg from their package, and surely as they gain further understanding of the car they should be able to work out how to increase the window of optimum performance, especially as more downforce is added throughout the year.

The Grape Unwashed

I’m a bit worried at the mistakes Mercedes are making this season: in Bahrain they started Bottas on incorrectly pressured tyres which ruined his race; in Sochi they compromised the cooling so much that Hamilton couldn’t perform any overtaking, other than when lapping backmarkers. These seem pretty rudimentary errors. My guess is that Mercedes is going to be at a disadvantage to Ferrari for the whole season – they’re unlikely to be able to make the fundamental changes to their car (e.g. by reducing weight) which will put them on par with Ferrari’s tyre management. With that in mind, they can’t afford to be making simple mistakes in set-up or strategy.

One thing I think we can say is that Bottas looks at least on par with Rosberg (I think he’s going to be regarded as clearly better by the end of the season), but the tension in the team has decreased massively. Mercedes has the right drivers, it just needs to up its game.


I think its just a case of Lewis having one of his “off” weekends. Jenson Button said the same thing in an interview with Skysports when comparing Hamilton and Alonso as teammates.

And asked to compare his experience of racing against Alonso this year to Hamilton in 2010-12, Button replied: “In a race, it’s a bigger challenge. A more consistent challenge. He’s always there.

“On some race days, Lewis was untouchable and other race days it was like ‘where is he?


My answer is that Putin had some hacking done with Lewis’ car. Dont put it pass him & didnt he & Lewis have an issue last year or the year B4.


Great technical incite.
Despite Hamilton moaning like a 5 year old I was impressed with his long term view which must be the WDC. finishing 4th and looking after the PU is better than not.
Really interesting comment about one cylinder cutting out due to the overheating.


I think the new Merc setup after Bahrain is kinder on its tyres and this does not suit Lewis driving style? I believe he likes the car a bit ‘tail happy’. If this is so then Hamilton has to make a major adjustment cos this is the only way that Merc will beat Ferrari this year.


How much time are mercedes expecting from their upgrade. If their weight loss is worth 3 tenths.their aero upgrade a couple of tenths and slight engine upgrade a couple of tenths. Could they be looking at 6-7 tenths. If so I can’t see ferrari funding that


There is no guarantee upgrades (if any) will work as intended out of the box. I also like how everyone assumes Ferrari is/will be standing still 🙂


It was just one of those races were it didn’t work out for Lewis. That’s the way it goes sometimes. I’m sure he’ll punch back in Spain. Russia was Bottas”s weekend, and what a great race it was for him.
I’m just glad now that it’s harder to see whose gonna win these races. My pity has been with McHonda this year, but I’m past pitying them now. I’m really feeling sorry for the Redbull boys now. We need Max and Dan up there aswell, and it can’t come soon enough! What a disappointment Redbull has been up to now. Had such high hopes at the start of the season😳. Let’s hope their new package is what the doctor ordered🏁


Mr Allen if ever consistencies matters to Journalist than you deserve a reward for being as such, simply put your analyses are spot on thank you Sir.
In regard to your analyses and input from those in the know, would one correctly assume Mercedes will strugle to retain their title of both WDC/ WCC in view what Ferrari displayed thus far, I would agree with your prediction as back as Bahrain when you stated Sochi Mercedes is the best chance for win, Barcelona Ferrari to loose it.


I don’t think so

Read the last lines of the piece about the next steps in Spain and the upgrades. Ferrari are under big pressure not to miss with any of their upgrades


Ferrari were also under big pressure to deliver a competitive car at the beginning of the season, given that they lost their TD and the team was profoundly restructured during the previous season. Yet they seem to have done OK. Hopefully its a positive indicator for their in-season development capabilities….


I read the last lines and can’t help but to feel it is all wishful thinking on behalf of Mercedes’ fans.

Stuart Harrison

I’m finding 2017 a bit tedious. It occurs to me that pushing the cars to the heights of performance (faster speeds) has increased the amount of heat being generated. More engine heat, more brake heat, more tyre heat. Following behind a hot car seems to push you to the extremes of temperature, stopping you from mounting a challenge.

Did we see a single overtake for position in Sochi this year? Aside from China, I can barely recall a single DRS overtake all season. Yes, the cars have got faster, but overtaking appears to be significantly more complicated.

Perhaps, a letter change is called for – instead of referring to F1 as the height of professional motorsport, we should instead refer to it as the height of processional motorsport..?


Aside from China, I can barely recall a single DRS overtake all season

And let’s hope we don’t see a single other DRS “overtake” for the rest of the season!


Australia and Sochi were dull

China and Bahrain were quite good.

There is a common denominator for both and I’ve outlined it in my post on “listening to the drivers” after Australia


What if you scrapped the middle compound? Just have Ultrasoft and Soft at each GP, scrap the Supersoft.
Bigger performance difference between them.
Also, keep that for all GP’s so on some tracks with a more abrasive surface you’d have more pitstops and greater strategy opportunities.
Might be an easy short term fix.


The 2017 Formula One cars are so complex that any number of storylines could be used to ‘explain’ why one driver, in the same car as a second driver, can go 1 second a lap faster on respective fastest laps of the race.
This complexity can also be used to ‘explain’ why one of the team’s cars can beat both of another team’s cars, after ‘apparently’ be slower all weekend.
I’m looking forward to the introduction of the new RB spec B, to see if its performance shakes out significantly ahead of the Ferrari, and how long it takes Mercedes to up their speed to match it, to make it seem close in the championship.
I still have doubts about the closeness of the competition.


Precisely – complexity is an underlying reason for the performance variability. Even the teams that spent over a million man-hrs developing these cars, don’t fully understand them….

But for some fans, the “obvious” explanation is that a three time world champion suddenly can’t drive, and a previous journeyman is the new Senna. 😉


“Raikkonen only had to do one out-lap before setting a qualifying time”

Mr David Greenwood, please read this carefully. One out lap. That means you don’t send Kimi out in traffic. He wasn’t able to switch on his tyres for his final run because Ocon was in the way. All the best for spain.


I heard this mentioned once somewhere, but I think Mercedes does have a certain engine mode they can enter at starts nowadays, that gives them slightly higher performances. The used to be quite weak on starts, but now they seem to power strongly from the start, both cars. Even with the safety car starts, in the last two races they both seem to have bursts compared to everyone else. Any talk of such a development James?


This i believe comes from what the Merc engine boss said at the start of the year. The 2017 PU has more thermal efficiency and they do not need to de rate as much as last year. I read this as saying they can use more high power maps more often and not damage or wear the engine as much. This could explain the ability to use a quiali only mode during races compared to 2016.


If i got it right Bottas was allowed to use the overtake mode when Vettel closed up. The overtake mode is producing even more heat and Bottas was not running into overheating it seems. Or was it a calculated risk?
There was some talk between Toto and Nicki and Nicki saying: Ich nehms auf meine Kappe. /That’s on my head, i will take the responsibilty.
Was this about allowing the overtake mode?


Or maybe Hamilton just is getting old or doesn’t have the motivation or… 😉


It’s the same old story with Hamilton. Seems to be a common thread now in Hamilton’s career where he’s supposed to crush teammates but never eventuates. Don’t forget that Bottas wasn’t much better than a Felipe Massa about 8 years past his prime.


Bottas and Nico comparisons end after other than they are Hamilton’s team mates driving the same car. Early days

Lewis can still squeeze out that extra drop of juice in qualifying, and on a wet or patchy track the only one I think he is comparable too is Max! But that is still early days too. Bottas looking good, a steely Finnish mentality look about his approach but a long way to go yet Darko!

I’d also steer clear of Sky sports journos, especially Ted.


Darko. Lewis has beaten all of his team mates, one nill against Fernando, two nill against Heiki, two one against Jenson and three one against Nico. The fact that three out of four of his team mates were or became world champions tells you that he hasn’t enjoyed an easy ride in terms of their calibre, and yet he has always prevailed. Bottas was faster than Massa, and has been faster than Lewis in one race out of four so far. A bit too early to judge the contest between them isn’t it?


That’s really the only reason for any confusion, is that a large number of people seem to believe the hype. Over the years it is showing that Hamilton is not actually that dominant of a driver. Nico was never touted as much more than good, and we saw the results. Valtteri was a last minute emergency choice, and is showing despite being new to the team that he is able to match him on occasions. Meanwhile the storyline over the last few years is that Hamilton is in his prime. If so, its just not that dominant or impressive. It’s surprising to many, but its not surprising to some, myself included.


You might be spot on here. I think Hamiltons good fortune was to come into F1 the way he did. He had an enormous amount of testing in that car and on those tyres. He went up against Alonso that was unfamiliar with those tyres and new to the team. Then of course Hamilton got prefferential treatment by Ron Dennis, the rest is history. But this laid the foundation for Hamilton from the get go in F1 and made sure he would always be in competitive material. And I have to say he’s done a very good job and taken advantage of his fortunate start to his career in F1. But he wasn’t a rookie by any means when he entered F1, with that amount of testing he hit the ground running. The same can be said for Vettel, he too had a lot of testing before the testing ban and can not be considered a rookie in his first season compared with todays rookies.
Hamilton has only dominated one of his teammates properly, Kovalainen. He didn’t dominate Alonso, Bottas or Rosberg the way you would expect from the hype. As for Bottas we will see.
I do think he’s got the talent to dominate his teammates, but perhaps his inner demons take center stage from time to time and prevents him from acchieving the maximum of what he’s capable of. But an exciting driver to watch and F1 wouldn’t be the same without hiim. His attitude has improved a lot lately, hope he continues the same way.


Kimiwillbeback. The teams know exactly how good all the drivers are. Every lap driven by all of them is analysed and compared with the ultimate pace their car is capable of, (another thing the teams can work out from analysis). They are looking for ultimate pace and how consistently each driver can deliver that pace, this information is of huge importance in their decision making process on who to hire. The top guys are in competitive machinery because the teams know exactly how good they are, it is this data that gets drivers hired and rehired, not what happened ten years ago. If another driver on the grid could deliver the performance that Mercedes know that Lewis can, then he would be in that car. F1 is the most data driven sport in the world, if a driver isn’t hitting the numbers, he is out.


Cheesypoof, Nico wasn’t that much more than good, that’s why Lewis dominated him. Nobody was expecting Lewis to beat Valterri twenty nill this year, I doubt very much that any driver will reach that target against their team mates.

Fursty ferret

well in 3 of the 4 races bottas race pace has been what he showed plenty of times against massa ,pretty average , he will keep Lewis honest in qually like Rosberg, but over a season, barring mechanical issues,like last year, Lewis will comfortably beat bottas,


I see. But he has never been up there in the front. In Sochi we all saw that his pace IS enough to win races. If you are in the middle soup and comfortably getting 6th or 7th and no-one near either front or behind you, there is no point to push. Now when he is in the front we’ll what’s his true pace is. And how Hamilton’s head can take it if Bottas starts winning more. Propably starts blaiming the team and car etc…

But what I really want to see is how Hamilton reacts when he realizes that Bottas couldn’t care a less about Hamilton’s games and politics etc. I bet Bottas wouldn’t even notice ;-D


@ Fursty feret…you might car to elaborate on what you think constitutes ‘comfortably beat’ consists of?


Maybe Bottas is just the faster of the two (but never brags about it).

Bottas has been on an upward curve in qualy relative to Lewis. Lewis still has to respond to this.

(and this is coming from a Lewis fan)


Hamilton with Mercedes engine trouble? A lesser-rated team mate beating him? Not again!

Stephen Taylor

James I think the first thing we learned from Sochi was that quite clearly Ferrari missed an open goal to win a race they should have won with ease really. The second is that Lewis won’t necessarily have things all his own way at Merc this season. James I still have a feeling Ferrari will not be able to sustain a championship challenge once we get Spain and the other main European . Let’s face it they have Binotto who is primarily an engine man . Eventually his lack of experience in dealing with Aerodynamics and leading a full technical programme will tell. Also Ferrari changing all these engine parts is only going to lead to penalties soon . That will cost them both championships


About Ferrari: What open goal? Not keeping the lead after the start? That’s not a Ferrari fault, but a Mercedes advantage: Bottas got the tow from Vettel into the left hander, and due to the low speed could keep the advantage of the slipstream until the speed delta was enough. During the race this couldn’t happen again, other than at the restart, but Bottas was smart enough to go flat soon enough. During the race, no-one could get a tow since they need the downforce to make the lefthander.
The updates are coming, as with every team, but you need to have them to work OK in the field. That’s not a thing a manager can influence.
The fact that Ferrari used a third turbocharger already, without any failures in testing or raceweekends indicates to me that they don’t expect them to change much over the season. So i guess they rotate them to rebuild and reballance them before every raceweekend (and probably contain wear issues)
About Mercedes: Lewis had a difficult weekend, but in the past he often came back with a vengeance. The thing is, the longer you’re on top, the harder it is to keep motivated / fresh / hungry (see Vettel in 14), certainly if something doesn’t go as expected.


I think you misunderstand Binotto’s role: He is not a Newey or an Alison. On the other hand his experience in leading a complex and multifaceted programme is exactly what got him where he is now.


“I still have a feeling Ferrari will not be able to sustain a championship challenge once we get Spain and the other main European.”

“Also Ferrari changing all these engine parts is only going to lead to penalties soon .”

Judging by the amount of upgrades they have brought up to Bahrain and Russia (wings, cooling ducts, monkey seat) and much improved performance in Qualifying I have a feeling it will be exact opposite.

Parts replaced (turbos predominately) have not failed and will obviously be available throughout the season.

It sounds to me you are secretly hoping for Ferrari to fail and are cherry picking information/relying on stereotypes.


Hi James, why do some tracks end up with different asphalt characteristics than others? is this a decision by the track owner or designer? What goes into the decision making?


Good question! One we should answer. Yes it’s down to the architect and the owners etc and local conditions, suppliers etc


Article raises interesting questions. During winter testing Mercedes did mammoth mileage but almost all was on the soft tire – very limited running on the super and ultra. Is it possible they have the settings down pat for soft but Ferrari, who did spend time on softer tires, have an edge now on the softer tire set up? Also, the Merc apparently has a longer wheelbase than previous – that will affect turn, making directional change slower, and affect tire usage. Not necessarily bad, the design team knows what it is doing, though the very best drivers prefer more positive turn in even though it makes the car more twitchy. Do we have comparison with wheelbase v Ferrari?


Once again we have a factor that no one cares about deciding the outcome of the race.
Tyres that are so sensitive to get into “the window” that it can effect lap time by 3 or 4 tenths is not what I pay to see.
Managing your tyres is a skill – that means not spinning them, no going too hard too early, not flat spotting them etc. I love watching tyre/pit stop strategies play out but that wasn’t the issue here.
The whole tyre regulations are completely wrong.
Pirelli should bring the same three compounds to every race: Ultra, Soft, Hard
Each car has to run a minimum of 5 laps on each compound. Start on whatever compound you like, but you must use your qualifying set during the race.


This is the insanity of no-testing and so-called cost cutting. F1 should reassess its regulatory priorities. They mandate complexity and let the teams figure it out in the race. How does that help the entertainment aspect? How does that help the manufacturer sell cars? How does it make the show less expensive to stage? I guess it evens out the competitive nature of racing. F1 is just wound a little tight.


I doubt seriously that F1 in itself sells any cars. The manufacturers argue in favor of technology they can apply to their customer products, but I agree, it has come at the expense of the sport.

When the only drama in the race is over after the first corner, something is wrong. Yeah, Vettel was catching up on Bottas at the end but there was never any way he was going to get by.


Fascinating insights, as always James. It’s interesting that these problems occur despite the universal use of tire warmers in F1. It will be interesting to see how Alonso copes with not having them at Indy.

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