Mercedes qualifying pace 'a slap in the face'

Mercedes qualifying pace ‘a slap in the face’

Lewis Hamilton was nine tenths of a second off Charles Leclerc’s pole lap time

Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes admitted they were surprised to be so far off the pace of the French Grand Prix and don’t know why.

Mercedes had identified the Paul Ricard track as where their car should be strong, but they were further behind than they have been for four races.

Hamilton said: “We were hoping to be a lot closer than we are.

“I thought we might be 0.2 seconds away or something. But we’re one second away and I don’t have an answer for that.”

Mercedes have brought a car upgrade to France which they believe could help them close the gap to leaders Red Bull and Ferrari, who also have developments on their cars this weekend. But instead Mercedes lost ground.

Hamilton qualified fourth, 0.893 seconds off the pole time set by Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc. In percentage terms, Mercedes are slower than at any race since the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in early June.

The seven-time champion said his qualifying lap was “magnificent” and he finished 0.366 seconds faster than team-mate George Russell, who was also slower than McLaren’s Lando Norris.

But Hamilton added: “For some reason we seem to be a lot further this weekend, but the whole field is. The top two teams are in their own league, really.”

Adding to Mercedes’ confusion was the fact that Hamilton was second fastest behind Leclerc in the first sector of the lap, which features a series of mainly low-speed corners, but much slower than him and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in the two straight lines dominated. middle sector, and the final sector, which has a combination of variable speed turns.

“On the last lap, the first sector is also fast,” Hamilton said. “Then we lose a lot on the straights. At least half a second. And then again on that high-speed section they have less drag and more downforce in the corners.

“The last sector was 0.6 to 0.7 seconds. It’s just crazy. For some reason they’re able to go a lot faster in high-speed corners.”

And he said it had shaken his confidence that he could compete at the front in the near future. F1 then heads to the Hungarian Grand Prix next weekend, a track where Hamilton has enjoyed considerable success over the years.

“I came here hoping we would be within 0.3 seconds,” Hamilton said, “and then we could close that by a few tenths in the next race and be in the fight in Budapest.

“But if it’s something like that, it’s going to be a while (before we can win). But it’s not impossible.”

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said: “We were slowly but surely getting back to the front lines.

“There were good signs at Silverstone, then we went to Austria, a track where we are usually not competitive at all, but we were close.

“Then we brought a nice update package to the Paul Ricard. The track is flowing: ‘Let’s go, let’s go find them.’ And we had no performance.

“We can’t figure out what was wrong. We’ve been experimenting with rear wings, almost the biggest we’ve had – Lewis described riding a parachute behind him this morning – to a smaller version which makes us lose too much speed in the corners.Then we experimented with the temperature of the tires.

“If you had told me we were 1.2 seconds down (Russell’s deficit from pole), I would have said it was not possible. It’s a bit of a slap in the face.”

Leclerc against Verstappen again

Charles Leclerc
Charles Leclerc leads Max Verstappen by 38 points in the drivers’ championship

The fight for pole turned into another battle between the two drivers who have dominated the year so far.

Leclerc won by more than 0.3 seconds with the help of a slipstream from teammate Carlos Sainz, who will start from behind due to grid penalty to use too many engine parts.

Sainz’s penalty means Red Bull has a strategic advantage with two cars to one in the race, as Sergio Perez qualified third.

And Red Bull may have an additional advantage – their car is much faster on the straights than the Ferrari, which has an advantage on the corners.

Leclerc said: “It will be tricky because Red Bull seem to be very quick in the race simulations they did yesterday (in Friday practice).

“We worked on the car a bit in the race but tire management will be an issue. We were good in Austria, we struggled yesterday but I think we’ve made a significant step since.”

Verstappen said: “Overall with the conditions it’s very difficult to really know what’s going to happen. It’s so hot and having tires in the right window is very difficult. We have to be careful with the tyres, to keep them alive will be key.”

The ‘Bounce’ row heats up

Off track, the weekend of the French Grand Prix was dominated by a dispute over rule changes governing body that the FIA ​​imposed last week for 2023.

These are part of the FIA’s ongoing attempts to control the “bouncing” of cars, a phenomenon that has emerged this year because rule changes aimed at making the cars more race-like have changed the way their aerodynamics work and made it advantageous to run them low and stiff.

There are two problems – porpoising, an aerodynamic phenomenon that causes high frequency vertical oscillation in straight lines; and rebound, which is caused by low ride stiffness.

Drivers from all teams have been uneasy about at least one of the issues this year, and last month the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association had a meeting with the FIA ​​and asked officials to take action on this.

A series of changes followed. A metric that defines a maximum allowable amount of bounces will be applied for the first time at next month’s Belgian Grand Prix after the summer break, and new controls to prevent floor flexing will also be introduced there.

But the most controversial step is the FIA’s decision to impose a series of design changes for 2023, including raising the sides of the floorboards by 25mm and making changes to the subfloor.

The FIA ​​has been able to circumvent the usual governance process which would require an 80% majority of teams to agree to such a rule change by saying it is necessary for safety reasons, allowing it to impose changes when she wants it.

Ferrari and Red Bull are angry about it. They argue it’s not a safety issue and are pushing for the changes to be rolled back, or at least scaled back. Four other teams – second team Red Bull Alpha Tauri, Haas and Ferrari- and Williams-powered Alfa Romeo – support them.

Red Bull team boss Christian Horner has accused the FIA ​​of acting in a way that favors Mercedes.

“There’s a lot of lobbying to change the regulations significantly for next year so that a certain team can run their car lower and benefit from this concept,” said Horner.

“It’s a very late time in the year to do this. I think the president (of the FIA) is doing the right thing. He is gathering all the information and I hope a sensible solution can be found. , because it is too late in the day.” for fundamental regulatory changes, which would be something like this.

“You just have to get the car higher: it’s easy. We haven’t had a problem all year. There’s only one team that has had a big problem.

“We have some of the most talented engineers in the world in the sport, and I can almost guarantee you that if we come back next year there probably won’t be any cars with issues.”

Christian Horner and Toto Wolff
Red Bull team boss Christian Horner and Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff haven’t always agreed on the issues

Behind the scenes there have been rumors that Red Bull and/or Ferrari may even be considering taking legal action against the FIA ​​over the matter.

But Wolff dismissed that as unrealistic, saying: “No team will ever be legal against the FIA ​​if they decide to implement things for safety reasons. I think that’s just asking.”

Wolff, who has a rocky relationship with Horner, also said it was “not worth spending time” responding to the lobbying accusations.

And he said Horner’s arguments miss the big picture.

“There is an inherent problem with the cars that we don’t see here, in Austria or at Silverstone because the tracks are the flattest of the year,” Wolff said. “But it hasn’t gone away. The cars are way too stiff and if you ask the drivers anonymously you’d probably have a majority saying that.”

“There was such a discussion coming from the drivers and there was a result but nobody talks about it. We see where it leads. It’s about technical regulations that protect the drivers. If the cars are too stiff, let’s do something about it.”

“Obviously when you’re racing ahead you want to make sure nothing changes and when it doesn’t you want a lot of things to change.”

Mercedes have had more rebound issues than Red Bull this season, although they haven’t experienced it in recent races after developments to their car.

Chief engineer Andrew Shovlin added: “There have been a few notable crashes this year where the car at the bottom of the plane was one of them – a driver loses control, goes over a curb, and it’s the car that crashed. hit the ground which actually caused them to land in the barrier at high speed.

“So that’s the safety argument. (It’s) as much about that as comfort.”

Shovlin drew parallels with an aerodynamic change made between 2020 and 2021 aimed at slowing down the cars as part of economic changes during the pandemic, and which affected the world champions much more than Red Bull.

“We’re working to resolve our issues on our own and I think we’ve made good progress on that,” Shovlin said.

“You can understand the conundrum of teams not wanting the regulations to change. We don’t know, as Mercedes, that a change in the regulations will suit us. And if you think back to 2020 in 2021, we didn’t know This rule change was going to hurt a low ride height car like ours and barely affect a high ride height car (like the Red Bull).

“So we’re certainly not in a position to say that the rule changes are definitely going to be in favor of Mercedes.

“Our position would be that if we want to solve some of the fundamental problems, you’re not going to do it by leaving the rules alone.”

An FIA spokesperson said: “We have made it clear that we consider this to be a safety issue and that it is our prerogative to intervene on safety issues.

“It allows us to make decisions without being authorized by the competitive positions of individual teams.

“The safety aspect is the only consideration for us.

“If we leave it as it is, the problem will get worse, not better.”

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