Lewis Hamilton has challenged his Mercedes team to work out why a lack of tyre grip this weekend has left the door open for Ferrari and Red Bull to seize control of the Singapore Grand Prix.
Following post-qualifying analysis of why his Mercedes car delivered its worst grid position of the season, Hamilton is convinced that wrong direction on set-up was not the answer as to the team's struggles.
Instead, he suggests there must be a different explanation as to why Mercedes faced such a deficit of performance compared to Ferrari.
“I had 100% confidence in the car,” explained Hamilton. “The balance was good, I had no understeer, the traction wasn’t particularly great but the balance was really good.
“We’ve definitely worked a lot more on balance set-up wise, trying to find more grip from the tyres.
"It’s not the set-up [that is the issue], we’ve had a couple of good set-ups. It’s the tyres for some reason. For whatever reason, we don’t quite know.”
Lack of pace
When asked to describe the problem, Hamilton said: “The only way I could really explain it... It’s a bit like doing a good lap on the prime tyre and then you go and do exactly the same lap on an option tyre and it’s a second and a half faster.
“I do the lap, and, like, that was a really good lap, but it’s a second and a half slower than the guys up ahead. We’ve not lost any performance in the car, the drivers have not lost any performance, and so there’s only one way it could've come from and that’s obviously the rubber.
“But I have no way of knowing that is the case, so I’m very interested to find out. I actually challenge all you guys to go and find what the reasons might be, and I’m challenging my team to find out what it is that loses us time – whether it’s in tyre pressures, temperatures of blankets, ride heights. I’m challenging everyone to find out.”
Pressures ruled out
One theory for Mercedes' drop of form was that it had been impacted by new tyre pressure guidelines laid down by Pirelli.
However, Mercedes was adamant that this was not the case, as its approach had not been altered by the limits given to then by the tyre supplier.
“None of the pressure levels set by Pirelli had any influence on our set-up today,” explained Mercedes motorsport boss Toto Wolff. “We were well within the limits.
“It is the effect of the mechanical grip we were able to extract from the tyre. The car hasn't changed. It is still a very good car aerodynamically and the engine hasn't changed – there is no explanation in a drop of performance of the car.
“It is just that we haven't been able to put the car in the sweet spot of the tyre. You need to have everything right; the ride-height, the camber, the toe, the pressures, the temperature of the bulk, the temperature of the surface. There is so much influencing it.”
Mercedes also said that there was no evidence of it having run engine settings that were more conservative than previous races.
“There was no engine saving mode, or nothing happening like that,” added Wolff. “I have seen that the other teams like Williams and Force India, who have been on an upward slope, didn't perform well today.
“Of course, the engine characteristics in the power department have an influence on how the car performs but I would say it is the least contributing factor to our performance today. When you look at the onboards, it is an overall lack of grip compared to the ones who are faster.”