It’s a good sign that Mercedes’ fifth-place finish on the grid is a disappointment. With the old version of W14 this was the standard. This time around, however, Lewis Hamilton set course for second on the grid behind Max Verstappen. After the best time in Q1 and the fourth fastest time in Q2, the stated goal was a place on the front row.
All went well until he was ten years old. “Then I hopped on the accelerator and all of a sudden the ass came. I think I lost twenty there.” Those two dozen would have put Hamilton ahead of Carlos Sainz. With Max Verstappen out of contention it would have felt like a win. Team boss Toto Wolff summed up the frustration: “We should have been right behind Verstappen, which is why our disappointment is so great.”
Prepare a compromise for Saturday
The renewed Mercedes is learning to walk slowly. It takes a little longer to teach it. On Friday, Lewis Hamilton and George Russell collected data for engineers with different car setups. Russell was leading more, with Hamilton having less downforce. The solution was a compromise. A little less wings at Russell’s, a little more at Hamilton.
With 3rd and 6th and four-tenths behind Verstappen, the third practice session showed that the team was heading in the right direction. Russell still sees room for improvement. But the shot backfired.
Oversteer has become retarded. “From the start I had the feeling that the tires weren’t building any grip. In the high-speed corners, the car started bouncing around a lot, so I wasn’t able to drive through the corners with as much throttle as I was able to do in practice three.” The young Englishman fell out of the standings in the second quarter and will start alongside Sergio Perez from 12th.
The light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter
Team boss Toto Wolff sees the light at the end of the tunnel with the second use of the upgrade offered in Monte Carlo. “We have more potential than we showed today. That’s our baseline. We can build on that. With the new front axle and a slightly more traditional body, we’ve cleared the question marks of the predecessor. This learning process will become part of our journey to being a competitive car.”
This also includes getting frames reliably into their working window. Wolf believes that not everyone has managed this task equally well and that is the reason for the strong volatility within individual teams. It also explains why Russell did worse than his teammate. Andrew Shovlin, chief engineer confirmed: “In the third practice, the tires were still doing well under similar conditions. So we still have to learn something there.”
Mercedes drivers are on a collision course
However, the topic of the day for the Silver Arrows was not to improve their form slightly, but rather to happen at the end of the second qualifying round. Hamilton and Russell touched at 320 km/h respectively. Unintentionally of course. The two drivers didn’t know they were on a fast lap. Hamilton at the end, Russell at the start. As Hamilton attempted a left pass, Russell also swerved left, having initially followed a sliding Carlos Sainz, but was now forced to pass the Ferrari.
Toto Wolff tried everything not to turn into a drama. “It was a misunderstanding, a lack of communication that we had to sort out in the garage. However, it was a tough moment at the end of Q2 so there’s no one to blame.” Shovlin agreed: “Unfortunately we didn’t coordinate the two cars well so they both lost their attempts at the end of the second session and a front wing was damaged in the process.”
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