Lewis Hamilton relieved Mercedes found Australian GP floor damage
|By Adam Cooper||Monday, March 18th 2019, 12:51 GMT|
Lewis Hamilton admitted he was relieved to find out that floor damage to his Mercedes Formula 1 car was the cause of his Australian Grand Prix struggle.
Hamilton suffered balance problems from as early as lap four, and gradually fell away from race-winning team-mate Valtteri Bottas.
It was only after the race that the team was able to confirm that the floor was damaged, possibly by debris from lap-one incidents.
"I had no way of knowing it was the floor," said Hamilton.
"Something didn't feel right, but you can't dwell on it. You just have to try and work with what you have, and I was quite easily keeping up with Valtteri until then.
"Then afterwards I felt I was really struggling with the rear. From lap four, that's when the damage occurred.
"Not sure where it came from, because I didn't run wide anywhere."
Asked if it could have come from debris, he said: "Potentially. And it's been quite a sensitive part of the floor, and actually that's quite encouraging to me because we work very hard to get the balance right.
"I felt like I had good pace this weekend, and we did our normal job in terms of working hard on getting a good set-up.
"And then all of a sudden the car was completely different compared to the formation laps, and what we had in the long runs.
"So it's great to see that there is a reason for the unexpected."
Pictures reveal extent of floor damage
By Jonathan Noble and Matt Somerfield
As these images show, Hamilton was left without the last (and largest) fully enclosed hole and edge flap at the rear of the floor. The inset image shows where the missing part should be.
Although this part is quite small, it is critical to the performance of the diffuser as it helps control the direction of the airflow around the rear tyre - and especially prevents airflow from spilling into the path of the diffuser.
The likely impact of the missing part is that it would have made the car very unbalanced - as the airflow over both sides of the car would have been different.
This not only would have impacted on the car balance, and Hamilton's ability to push, but would have hit tyre management too.
Aside from the floor problem, Hamilton had to pace himself anyway because Mercedes bringing him in to cover Ferrari's early pitstop for Sebastian Vettel left him with a 43-lap run to the flag.
"I naturally had a lot more pace in the car. But here you need a 1.8s delta to overtake the car ahead," Hamilton explained.
"So as soon as I got through Turn 1, it was really about managing it, and I was planning just to stay close by - two, three seconds.
"Then I obviously had the issue with the car and the gap started to slowly increase. So it would have continued to increase.
"So after that I was trying to look after the tyres, but I got stopped super early in reaction to the Ferraris.
"From then on, I knew the race was done. I knew immediately I was going be in trouble on the long run."
Aware that the pursuing Max Verstappen stayed out and would therefore have fresher tyres for the latter part of the race, Hamilton wanted to extend the life of his own.
In the end he had just enough performance to keep the Red Bull driver behind and hang on to second place.
"I drove well off the pace, to make sure that at the end of the race I still had life left in the tyres because I knew on those following laps Max and Valtteri were still out, and they kept going for laps and laps, and I knew that trouble was growing," Hamilton said.
"So I knew at the end I would have someone on my tail.
"But rather than push and keep close, struggle with the tyres and at the end have a big degradation, which Vettel had, which is understandable because the tyres are so old, I was quite happy with the pace I was able to pull out at the end."