Mercedes on Hamilton’s recent F1 qualifying struggles: “The car is a bit fiddly at times”

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In recent Formula 1 races, Lewis Hamilton, the seven-time World Champion, has found himself facing a qualifying challenge against his teammate, George Russell. This surprising turn of events prompted Mercedes to delve into the issue and provide insights into the reasons behind Hamilton’s struggles during qualifying sessions.

Photo credit: Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team

Before the mid-season break, Hamilton showcased his Saturday (or Friday at sprint events) dominance by outperforming Russell in six out of seven races, with the highlight being his pole position at the Hungaroring.

However, since the Zandvoort round, his qualifying performance has seen a downturn. He managed to beat Russell only once in the past four races, during the Japanese Grand Prix. In the Netherlands, Hamilton felt he missed a prime opportunity for pole position after being eliminated in Q2.

Andrew Shovlin, Mercedes Trackside Engineering Director, shed light on the situation, emphasizing Hamilton’s consistent Sunday race performance. Shovlin explained: “He’s always performed on a Sunday and that’s been brilliant because he’s always been able to bring home decent points for us.”

However, he pointed out that the car’s behavior posed challenges in qualifying, stating: “The car is a bit fiddly at times. If you don’t get it right in the window, you can end up struggling through the session.”

Photo credit: Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team

Shovlin highlighted another significant shift in Formula 1 – the increased difficulty of progressing through Q1 and Q2 compared to when Mercedes dominated the sport. He noted:“The other thing that makes it difficult is that it is so hard to get through Q1, Q2 these days. A few years ago, we would just do one lap in the middle of the session, it would put you completely safe.

“Sometimes we’d go through two sessions on one set of tyres. If you don’t get the right balance, if you get a bit of traffic, can’t do the right out lap, all of those things really cost you.”

Despite Hamilton’s well-established reputation as a strong qualifier, Shovlin suggested that the characteristics of the W14 car might be leading Hamilton to prioritize race performance over qualifying.

“The race pace has been good, it says that the car is broadly where you need it to be.”

However, he added that handling the pressure of understanding the tyres during qualifying, especially in the first session, presents a unique challenge. “It is difficult,” Shovlin emphasized, “and that certainly makes it a challenge for any driver who’s not completely comfortable when they roll out in Q1.”