Mercedes trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin has explained the reason behind Lewis Hamilton’s qualifying struggles this season, with him putting it down to the W14 being “fiddly at times”.
Throughout Hamilton’s Formula 1 career, nailing one lap in qualifying has been a speciality of his, as proven by the fact he’s a 104-time pole sitter.
However, since the 2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, the seven-time World Champion has started on pole just the once.
Hamilton claimed his first pole of the current era of the sport at the 2023 Hungarian Grand Prix, although he went onto to finish that race in P4.
Since the current aerodynamic regulations were introduced, George Russell has often qualified ahead of the 38-year-old, although he failed to do this last weekend at the Japanese Grand Prix.
Whilst Hamilton did well to qualify ahead of Russell at Suzuka, prior to that he was on a three-race streak of having qualified comfortably behind the ex-Williams driver.
At the Singapore Grand Prix, Hamilton claimed P5 on the grid after going four-tenths slower than Russell who qualified on the front row.
It was a similar story at the Italian Grand Prix, where Hamilton started eighth whilst Russell salvaged fourth on the grid, after the 25-year-old went two-tenths quicker than his experienced partner.
Once again prior to Monza at the Dutch Grand Prix, Hamilton was eliminated in Q2 after only managing to go 13th quickest, whereas Russell put his W14 at the front of the second row (P3).
Thankfully for Hamilton, he’s tended to make up for his qualifying struggles by performing excellently in the races, to the extent that he’s beaten Russell in 12 of the 16 completed races this season.
Shovlin recognises that Hamilton has been “brilliant” on a Sunday, but that the difficulty of getting the W14 into the right window has cost the Stevenage-born driver on a Saturday.
“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,” Shovlin told media, including RacingNews365.com.
“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.
“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.”
Since the new regulations were introduced at the start of 2022, Mercedes have often had better race pace than one-lap pace, with this season being no different.
Whilst this can be put down in many ways to Hamilton’s expert racecraft, Shovlin believes that the 103-time race winner has often not qualified as well as he could because of not feeling “completely comfortable” in the car, causing him to back from immediately pushing to the maximum.
“The race pace has been good, it says that the car is broadly where you need it to be,” Shovlin added.
“But understanding the tyres when you’re under pressure, when you’ve got to make sure that you do get the lap in the first session.
“It is difficult and that certainly makes it a challenge for any driver who’s not completely comfortable when they roll out in Q1.”