Mercedes: What went wrong for Lewis Hamilton and the F1 champions and is there a ‘quick fix’ for 2022?

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Anthony Davidson tells Any Driven Monday why Mercedes is struggling to compete so far in this Formula 1 season

Anthony Davidson tells Any Driven Monday why Mercedes is struggling to compete so far in this Formula 1 season

In an unprecedented eight-year streak of Formula 1 titles, Mercedes crushed their rivals and were hardly in contention for a victory in any of the 160 races from 2014 to the end of 2021.

While a new era of F1 for 2022 has brought heavily changed cars and rules, it’s this dominance that has made them the undisputed favorites for this year.

But the two thrilling races to start the new season had a notable, almost unthinkable, silver absentee, while Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton have already suffered a humiliating Q1 exit in qualifying and already admit they are “hands down” rivals. Ferrari and Red Bull.

Mercedes are well and truly on the back foot heading into the Australian GP, ​​and Sky Sports F1’s Anthony Davidson has given his thoughts on their issues so far, driver concerns and whether there is a quick fix. .

The start of the 2022 season of Mercedes against the others

The first two rounds of 2020 The first two rounds of 2021 The first two rounds of 2022
Best qualification 1st (Bottas, Australian GP. Hamilton, Styrian GP) 1st (Hamilton, Emilia Romagna GP) 5th (Hamilton, Bahrain GP)
Best Race 1st (Bottas, Australian GP. Hamilton, Styrian GP) 1st (Hamilton, Bahrain GP) 3rd (Hamilton, Bahrain GP)
Combined points 80 60 38
Place in the championship 1st 1st 2nd (-40 on leader)

When did the problems start for Mercedes?

For Mercedes, the troubles were already evident before First race of 2022.

After a regular first test in Barcelona, ​​Mercedes turned heads ahead of the second test in Bahrain with a spectacularly sleek new design for its W13 car, which many – even most in the paddock – expected to see from a team that has so much history in the ac new regulations find instant speed.

Lewis Hamilton was knocked out in Q1 in Saudi Arabia - the first time the seven-time world champion hasn't reached Q2 since Brazil in 2017

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Lewis Hamilton was knocked out in Q1 in Saudi Arabia – the first time the seven-time world champion hasn’t reached Q2 since Brazil in 2017

Lewis Hamilton was knocked out in Q1 in Saudi Arabia – the first time the seven-time world champion hasn’t reached Q2 since Brazil in 2017

But as Anthony, who is a simulator driver for the world champions, notes: “I could already see on track in Bahrain that it didn’t quite look like the car I knew in the simulator.

“That was already ringing a few alarm bells with me.”

And why is that?

Porpoising: the “fascinating problem” holding the team back

Mercedes had more trouble than most with the “porpoising” phenomenon seen this year when the car bounces hard on its suspension at high speeds. Not shown in the simulator, this caught Mercedes completely off guard, and they believe this is the source of 99% of their problems.

While all teams have experienced this in some way to start the new year, Red Bull and to a lesser extent Ferrari have taken the upper hand and Mercedes were often a lap second behind these cars at the last race in Arabia. saudi.

Aim for more top speed? The W13 bounces back. Roll the car lower and get more performance? This increases the problem. So Mercedes has to roll the car higher to alleviate porpoising, sacrificing speed.

Hamilton continued to struggle with porpoising in his Mercedes during P1 in Saudi Arabia

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Hamilton continued to struggle with porpoising in his Mercedes during P1 in Saudi Arabia

Hamilton continued to struggle with porpoising in his Mercedes during P1 in Saudi Arabia

“I think the main point is that they just can’t manage the ride height of the car the way they want,” says Ant.

“I see a lot of other teams, Red Bull for example, they can scrape the ground with sparks flying from underneath. They can’t physically lower that car to the ground.

“You don’t really see that on the Mercedes, or the Ferrari for that matter, and you see a lot more twists.

“I think Mercedes ideally want to race where Red Bull is, but every time they try to go there, porpoises and bouncing are incredibly detrimental to the comfort in the car and also the speed.

“And that doesn’t just happen on the straights, it also happens in high-speed corners. Then the car becomes a bit of a workhorse and you can’t hold on to the thing.”

While Mercedes and drivers Hamilton and George Russell have been consistent with their message that the car needs more downforce and power – with engines also a slight concern – they have also been consistent with their belief that it there is a lot of potential in the W13.

“The problem they have is that they know they have potential in the car,” adds Ant.

“They know it can be a lot faster, but they can’t make it work where they want. It’s a fascinating problem.”

What happened to Hamilton?

The biggest shock of the season so far has to be Hamilton’s crash at the first qualifying hurdle in Jeddah, where he could only manage 16th as he left Q1 for the first time at pure pace alone in over of a decade.

Hamilton was well beaten by new team-mate Russell and put on a downbeat figure after Sunday’s race where he scored just one point. While he managed a podium finish in Bahrain – handed to him a double Red Bull DNF – a historic quest for an eighth title is already stuttering.

Former F1 driver Anthony Davidson shares his thoughts on Hamilton's performance so far this season, hailing that

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Former F1 driver Anthony Davidson shares his thoughts on Hamilton’s performance so far this season, hailing that ‘if anyone can bounce back, it’s Lewis’

Former F1 driver Anthony Davidson shares his thoughts on Hamilton’s performance so far this season, hailing that ‘if anyone can bounce back, it’s Lewis’

“Underestimate it at your peril,” Davidson insisted.

“He won’t give up, he will keep pushing the limits and I think he got pretty far with the car in qualifying in Saudi Arabia, trying to get what he wanted out of it. In the race he found its pace.”

“I expect Lewis to understand what this car needs in terms of driving style.

“Of course he’s super adaptable, he’s been quick in every iteration of Formula 1 that has come his way and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t continue in this current generation of Formula 1.

“He just needs to find his rhythm. I feel like over time he and the team will work hard and turn things around.”

Will Mercedes be able to recover and when will it find a solution?

Mercedes are planning ‘incremental upgrades’ over the coming rounds, and they’re set to deliver their first update at this weekend’s return Australian GP in Melbourne, which should at least give them some performance .

But it may not be a “quick fix”.

Mercedes' George Russell says the team is making progress but admits they still have a long way to go to catch up with their rivals

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Mercedes’ George Russell says the team is making progress but admits they still have a long way to go to catch up with their rivals

Mercedes’ George Russell says the team are making progress but admits they still have a long way to go to catch up with their rivals

“The car isn’t as good as the Red Bull and the Ferrari, it’s in no man’s land,” says Davidson. “He hovers in the gray area where you can’t challenge the forward but you’re definitely faster than the midfield behind you.

“I expect them to make some gains…but it will take time, it’s not a silver bullet.

“And we shouldn’t expect a quick fix, from Bahrain to Jeddah. There was hardly any time in between and it was basically the exact same car they took there.”

Mercedes themselves say they are trying to maximize points until they are back in contention for race wins and pole positions.

Given their expertise and work history – like last year when they overhauled Red Bull – there won’t be any major panic yet. But the concern will be, once they unlock the car’s potential, how far ahead will Ferrari and Red Bull be? And can they catch up?

It’s just another fascinating storyline at the start of this new season.

The action continues with the Australian GP, ​​live on Sky Sports F1 at 6am on Sunday.

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