Mercedes setup experiment on Hamilton’s car ‘massively backfires’

Mercedes setup experiment on Hamilton's car 'massively backfires'

Toto Wolff believes that Mercedes’ attempt to drastically change its Formula 1 car setup during practice sessions for the 2024 Australian Grand Prix has “massively backfired.”

Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff has acknowledged that the experiment involving the use of alternative car setups for Lewis Hamilton and George Russell during Friday’s practice sessions in Melbourne failed to work.

The Brackley-based outfit arrived for the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne feeling confident about making a huge step forward with Lewis Hamilton hailing the W15 as an amazing car.

This comes after the drivers complained that Mercedes was losing ground in the first rounds of the new season as the team starts strongly in free practice only to revert to dismal performance in qualifying and the race.

Hamilton stood in 18th place on the time sheets after he set the second-slowest time in Friday’s second practice session, 1.5 seconds behind leader Charles Leclerc and 0.8 seconds behind George Russell in the sister Mercedes. His lap time was only faster than Kevin Magnussen’s Haas since Williams driver Alexander Albon did not participate in the session.

Wolff now claims they “experimented” with different setups on their two cars but were unable to unlock performance.

“We’ve achieved the experiments, but we haven’t unlocked performance,” the Austrian told Sky Sports.

“In the second session we’ve gone through a really quite dramatic set-up change on Lewis’ car and that has massively backfired. But this is why we’re having those sessions.

“On the other side it was a bit better, but we were lacking performance. I think on a single lap if he finished that lap we’re a bit better but overall it wasn’t a good day.”

Mercedes has suffered a streak of dismal results since the introduction of the new technical regulations in 2022 prompting the team to develop their most recent F1 car on a considerably different approach compared to its predecessors.

Despite some encouraging moments most notably when its drivers led the time sheets in second practice at the Bahrain Grand Prix, the team hasn’t been able to uphold the performance consistently during a race weekend so far.

The Silver Arrows currently sit fourth in the constructors championship following the first two rounds and Wolff acknowledged he is not happy with their current state of performance.

“If I would say that I’m not frustrated, it would be not the truth,” he added. “Certainly we are because we’re trying so much in all directions, but don’t seem to have found that silver bullet yet, which helps us to get us in the right direction.

“But we’ve got to keep trying. We’ve seen performance in this car before. I just don’t want to go back and say we’re just not good in these [ground-effect] regulations, because we have everything we need in order to get on top of that. And we will.”

Mercedes trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin believes that the larger-scale performance adjustments intended to improve the car’s performance through high-speed turns and reduce bouncing from Saudi Arabia had been successful despite the challenges faced during the second practice.

“We had a good FP1 session,” Shovlin said. “The changes we made to improve our high-speed cornering performance and reduce the bouncing after Saudi Arabia seemed to be a good step in the right direction. Overall, the car was feeling quite good.

“Unfortunately, FP2 wasn’t as strong. Lewis felt that we had gone in the wrong direction with our changes. Frustratingly, they weren’t quick to unwind so he had to live with that throughout the session.

“George found the car a bit trickier in the windier conditions of FP2 compared to earlier in the day. We could have ended a bit higher up the time sheets had he not had a bit of damage.

“Overall though, it’s clear that we’ve got work to do overnight to improve the car.”

Hamilton’s verdict from the cockpit was: “It didn’t feel great out there today. We began the day on the front foot and in FP1 the car generally felt good.

“The first run was actually the best the car has felt so far this year. To continue our learning, we made some big changes into FP2, and unfortunately that made the car worse.

“It was tough but there are positives we can take from the first session and we’ll be working hard overnight to make improvements.”

On the other hand, Hamilton’s teammate George Russell had a more enjoyable experience. He finished FP1 in third place and finished the afternoon in the top six, although he acknowledged that he had experienced a few near misses.

“We were pushing the limits today and I had a few moments out there!” he said after the end of the day’s sessions. “It was all under control in the end though.

“I was on for a really good lap on my last push on the soft tyre, but just ran wide in the last two corners and picked up some minor damage to my front-wing.

“Without that, I think we would have finished the session P3. It was very tight out there in the first session, with FP2 slightly more spread out.

“Every single lap is so valuable as you learn more about the car and try to get it into the sweet spot. We are trying to understand this car further and made some changes after Saudi Arabia.

“We’ll have the team back at the factory working hard in the simulator to get more performance out of it.”

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