Lewis Hamilton has repeatedly commented on winning the seventh title, the prospects for a new contract and hot social topics. In a fresh interview, the British driver spoke about the behind-the-scenes work that made Mercedes an unbeatable team.
Question: How can you improve what is already almost perfect?
Lewis Hamilton: I can’t remember my every season in Formula 1, but in 2020, on average, I performed at my highest level. On the one hand, this is a natural process, although it is not always possible to do everything perfectly. The difference from past years was that the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic gave us more time to reflect on our mistakes.
Last year I did a lot in races, but I was not that good in qualifications. Before this season, I thought about how to eliminate my weaknesses without losing strengths. I managed to improve not only in qualifications, but also in races. This came as a surprise to me.
Question: What have you changed?
Lewis Hamilton: We have the same tires as in 2019, and I learned to work with them more efficiently. I better understand the technical side of the issue and know how to tune the car. Before qualifying, it is not always possible to try all the settings, so you need to make a decision faster. We began to work more efficiently, and this is also connected with interaction with engineers.
Question: What can you add in 2021?
Lewis Hamilton: Every year it becomes more and more difficult to add, because it is always easier to hand over positions. Every athlete at some point comes to a point where he can do nothing more than maintain his shape in optimal condition. I do not stand still and know what to do in order to add physically and mentally. This is due to the fact that I understand that circumstances can develop even better.
Q: You are a tire master. Did this skill come naturally, or at some point enlightenment came and you understood what to do?
Lewis Hamilton: Ever since playing in GP2, I knew how important it is to be able to work with rubber. Nothing fundamentally changed in my driving style. Tire conservation has nothing to do with driving style, rather it depends on what the team is doing.
When I played in McLaren, I constantly put pressure on the team, told them what pressure and temperature should be at the tires, but they never listened to me. I wanted Mercedes to be different.
At the beginning of the collaboration, there was also a struggle between us, as we tried different things. You can develop a fast car, pick up good settings, but the biggest contribution to the result is made by tires and the ability to maximize their capabilities on one lap and over a long distance. This is influenced by things like mechanical settings and aerodynamic balance.
I put pressure on the team so that the aerodynamic balance was what I want. Since 2014, we have been changing it in the direction I want. Engineers run simulations that determine what the balance of the car should be, but simulations cannot do what a racer can do. I can feel the car.
I also learned a lot from sharing my wishes with the team and being creative. It all comes down to finding compromises, and when you manage to achieve a good result, this becomes your argument. You can tell the team, “Let’s do it this way, even though it sounds crazy.” This approach has helped our team become better.
Q: By working with engineers, can you tell a simple racer from a good driver?
Lewis Hamilton: Young drivers do not always understand how Michael Schumacher managed to make Ferrari such a successful team or me to make Mercedes a success. Half of the people think that I was just lucky to be behind the wheel of a good car. Today I can appreciate what Michael did then. You need to be at the helm to guide a group of smart, determined, and creative people. This will allow one day to come to a situation where the car will be in perfect harmony with the rider.
Question: Is there a standard approach that allows you to constantly progress?
Lewis Hamilton: Every week I meet with the team to discuss the situation. At my request, the number of people who participate in such meetings has been increased. I always know in which direction the car will change.
In the past, there have often been cases where aerodynamics experts have told me what problems they want to solve and what are their next steps in the development of the car. More than once I had to say that we do not have a problem that they are trying to solve. Direct conversation is always important to me, because I did not want to hear secondhand about what is being planned in the aerodynamic department. Without direct conversation, most of the information was lost.
At the end of the year, before I talk about the critical points of the car, I tell the guys that they deserve success. Then we discuss how to improve our interaction, should we meet more or less often. Either we are discussing a checklist and I say that a certain item is not so important, or, on the contrary, it should be put higher in the list.
Q: What has been improved in the current car compared to 2019 in the wake of your criticism?
Lewis Hamilton: Engineers often think they know better. Some do not even like to listen to the racers – at least it was in McLaren. It’s different at Mercedes. I do not go to the engineers and say: “Do this, do that.” I say, “Something is wrong here, we can do better.” After a while they come back to me and say, “How about we do it like this?” Thus, we work together and move forward step by step.
Example. We have the longest car in the peloton. And the funny thing about all this is that none of the teams copied our decision, although we win most of the races. The rivals are so passionate about their concept that they don’t want to look around. This length gives our car more downforce, but at the same time makes it less maneuverable.
Last year, our car was good in fast and medium speed corners, but not in slow ones. During the winter tests, a similar trend was observed. I insisted that we tune the machine differently to solve this problem. I do not want to go into details, but we managed to add in this component, and now we do not have this problem.
Q: Does the front of the car handle better?
Lewis Hamilton: I’ve always liked cars that react sharply to steering movements. However, current tires have certain limitations – if you make the steering wheel very sharp, the rubber will quickly overheat. Therefore, you need to look for a balance point so as not to overheat the tires, and to improve handling – this is a kind of swing.
In the past year, the rear of the car has behaved well, but the car was prone to understeer. This year we worked with the aerodynamic balance, which gave us more freedom in choosing the mechanical settings for the front of the car. The car now behaves better in slow turns with a sharper steering angle.