Mercedes chief strategist James Vowles has revealed that Sir Lewis Hamilton was beginning to suffer from an overheating engine towards the end of the Australian Grand Prix.
Having qualified fifth ahead of team-mate George Russell, the 24-year-old found himself in front of his compatriot as a result of a Safety Car after Sebastian Vettel’s crash, and Russell secured his first Mercedes podium after a reliability failure put Max Verstappen out of the grand prix.
Hamilton ended the race just over a second adrift of his compatriot, and told his team over the radio in the closing stages that they had put him in a “really difficult position.”
Initially, it was perceived that he was venting frustration at being stuck behind the former Williams racer, but it has now transpired that his frustrations emanated from a difficulty to keep temperatures down.
“That was all about engine cooling and keeping the power unit cool during the course of the race,” said Vowles in Mercedes’ YouTube debrief.
“We push everything to the limit, as you would imagine, and one of those is engine cooling, and you do that by closing up the bodywork or changing the louvre design at the back of the car.
“That decision is made on Saturday but obviously we are racing on Sunday, 24 hours later, and in this particular circumstance, the ambient was one or maybe two degrees warmer than we had expected.
“As a result of that, ourselves – and not just ourselves, you would have heard it from teams up and down the grid – were right on the limit of what the engine and the PU can take in terms of cooling requirements.
“During the course of the race, when you are following a car, it meant that Lewis had to compromise what he was doing.”
A necessity to remove himself from Russell’s slipstream ultimately led to Hamilton’s small outburst.
“He had to move out of the dirty air of the car in front of him and make sure he got cool, clean air through the radiators to drop the PU temperatures down,” explained Vowles.
“But doing that makes racing the car in front incredibly difficult, and that’s why his message came out.”
Trackside engineer Andrew Shovlin has previously testified that there is a “little bit of everything” wrong with the 2022 Mercedes car after their many struggles under the new technical regulations, and the 42-year-old concedes that the deficit to pace-setters Ferrari was proportionately bigger in Melbourne that it was in Bahrain in the opening round of the year.
“In terms of where we were in Melbourne, we have to face the reality: we were a second down in qualifying relative to Ferrari and in the race, Leclerc was in a league of his own,” he added.
“Bahrain ended up being still to this point in our season our most competitive race, as an example, as a gap relative to the front.
“Every race though that we move forward, we have a plan of action of what we need to test, try and develop on that car and I am sure all of our competitors have the same thing.
“But the key is this: we have to start clawing back that gap to the front.”
Despite their performance difficulties, Mercedes were the highest points scorers in Melbourne, and sit second in the Constructors’ Championship, 39 points behind Ferrari.
Charles Leclerc holds a 34-point advantage over Russell having won two of the opening three races of the year.