How Hamilton recovered from his practice ‘disaster’ in Baku

Without knowing the context of Formula 1 qualifying for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, a listen to Lewis Hamilton’s parc ferme radio would suggest he took pole position.

How Hamilton recovered from his practice ‘disaster’ in Baku

“Woop!” he cried. “What an effort, what an effort guys, what an effort!”

As Hamilton parked his Mercedes W12 car behind the P2 board, there was a surprising sense of relief for the seven-time world champion. He may not have added to his tally of 100 pole positions, but he had turned around what looked set to be a damaging weekend for Mercedes.

After the struggles of Monaco, Hamilton saw little sign of his fortunes turning around on Friday in Baku. A difficult FP2 saw him finish the day 11th-fastest, more than a second behind pace-setter Sergio Perez of Red Bull. Teammate Valtteri Bottas was a further second off the pace down in 16th.

Team boss Toto Wolff offered a bleak outlook for Mercedes’ chances heading into Saturday, bracing himself for a “very, very difficult” qualifying. Hamilton and Bottas both struggled in the early part of final practice, reporting a lack of rear- and front-end grip.

But as the minutes ticked down, Hamilton finally strung a decent lap together to shoot up to third place in the final classification, four-tenths of a second down on surprise leader Pierre Gasly. It was hardly a convincing display from Mercedes, particularly with Bottas still outside the top 10, but the momentum was building.

“We were still pretty much a disaster in FP3,” Hamilton said. “But we discovered something at the end of P3, and I continued to push down in that direction, and it paid dividends.”

The discovery to take a different set-up direction helped to solve some of the tyre warm-up issues the Mercedes car had been battling through practice - a hangover from Monaco - and gave Hamilton the chance to turn things around.

“We tried something right at the end just with the set-up, and it unlocked the potential a little bit,” Hamilton explained. “it was really just about getting the tyres to work. We just can’t get our tyres to switch on like the others generally can, so the night and day difference in feeling was all of a sudden the tyres started working, and we were kind of back in the game.”

The breakthrough came after a long night of work and analysis for Mercedes that lasted right up to the start of qualifying. As much faith as Hamilton has in the team he has enjoyed so much success with, there was still an unease he could end up going in the wrong direction.

“I had a lot of anxiety, because you don’t know if you’re going to get it right or going to get it wrong,” Hamilton said. “It [could] mean you’re out of the top 10 like we were earlier this morning and yesterday.

“Eventually we just had to let it go, literally like 10 minutes before the session finished. We were here last night until 11 o’clock. Again just before the session, 10 minutes before, we were still making small changes, and then just had to shake it off and go for it and go all out.”

Wolff revealed Mercedes went to “extreme” lengths with the set-up of the car to get the desired result. “[They] weren't a silver bullet but it was just really crunching through the numbers, trying things, getting the feedback of the drivers and eventually we had the car in a more decent place,” he said. “So it was the last run in FP3 where we tried to confirm the step and the car was there or thereabouts.”

Read Also:

One of the tactics that stood Hamilton and Bottas out from the rest of the field throughout qualifying was going for two warm-up laps before going for their flying laps. Both drivers did this in Q2 and Q3, avoiding getting caught out by red flags that came at the end of each session. For Hamilton in particular, it allowed him to get into far stronger shape, sitting third in the final Q2 standings.

Hamilton’s first effort in Q3 put him second on the grid, splitting Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen. He was only 0.232 seconds shy of Leclerc’s pole effort, finding close to seven-tenths of a second from his best time in FP2.

But Hamilton felt there was a little bit more time in the lap, having got too close to Bottas in a bid to get a tow. “I definitely think there was time left on the table, I think I was too close to Valtteri on the first lap,” Hamilton said. “I struggled, I was a bit down in the middle sector because I was just too close to the car ahead. But anyways, I will take it.”

In the end, the red flag for Yuki Tsunoda’s crash at Turn 3 brought qualifying to an end, ensuring Hamilton clinched second on the grid - crucially, ahead of Verstappen.

Hamilton is known to thrive on adversity, coming back stronger when the going gets tough. Monaco was a sobering experience he vowed the team would learn from, with the Baku turnaround seeming to act as proof of that. It’s no wonder he was so ebullient after qualifying.

“Honestly, it’s one of the greatest feelings,” Hamilton said. “For the experience we’ve gone through, for the difficult experience we’ve gone through, being out of the top 10 all weekend and really struggling to understand and extract performance from our car, it feels fantastic.

“[I’m] really happy to be up here, grateful to have got the lap in. It puts us in for a much different race than we anticipated after yesterday.”

The four-point deficit to Verstappen looked like it would grow after Friday in Baku. Now Hamilton finds himself ahead of his title rival on the grid with a chance to reclaim the points lead.

But the lessons learned from his Baku turnaround could yet prove even more valuable across the remainder of the season.

shares
comments

Related video

Formula 1 Azerbaijan Grand Prix – How to watch, start time & more
Previous article

Formula 1 Azerbaijan Grand Prix – How to watch, start time & more

Next article

Leclerc: I don't feel like Ferrari has stolen Baku pole

Leclerc: I don't feel like Ferrari has stolen Baku pole
Load comments
How getting sacked from Benetton made Mercedes' Allison Prime

How getting sacked from Benetton made Mercedes' Allison

He’s had a hand in world championship-winning Formula 1 cars for Benetton, Renault and Mercedes, and was also a cog in the Schumacher-Ferrari axis. Having recently ‘moved upstairs’ as Mercedes chief technical officer, James Allison tells Stuart Codling about his career path and why being axed by Benetton was one of the best things that ever happened to him.

The remarkable qualities that propelled Kubica’s F1 comeback Prime

The remarkable qualities that propelled Kubica’s F1 comeback

It’s easy to look at Robert Kubica’s second Formula 1 career and feel a sense of sadness that he didn’t reach the heights for which he seemed destined. But as Ben Anderson discovered, performance and results are almost meaningless in this context – something more fundamental and incredible happened…

Formula 1
Nov 27, 2021
The humbling changes Ricciardo made to deliver for McLaren Prime

The humbling changes Ricciardo made to deliver for McLaren

From being lapped by his own teammate in Monaco to winning at Monza, it’s been a tumultuous first season at McLaren for Daniel Ricciardo. But, as he tells STUART CODLING, there’s more to the story of his turnaround than having a lovely summer holiday during Formula 1's summer break...

Formula 1
Nov 26, 2021
The potential benefits of losing the F1 constructors' title Prime

The potential benefits of losing the F1 constructors' title

As the battle continues to rage over the F1 2021 drivers' championship, teams up and down the grid are turning their attentions to the prize money attributed to each position in the constructors' standings. But F1's sliding scale rules governing wind tunnel and CFD use will soften the blow for those who miss out on the top places

Formula 1
Nov 25, 2021
The invisible enemy that's made Hamilton's title charge tougher Prime

The invisible enemy that's made Hamilton's title charge tougher

After winning his past few Formula 1 titles as a canter, Lewis Hamilton currently trails Max Verstappen by eight points heading into the final double-header of 2021. Although Red Bull has been his biggest on-track challenge, Hamilton feels that he has just as much to grapple with away from the circuit

Formula 1
Nov 24, 2021
Why F1's inconvenient penalties have to stay Prime

Why F1's inconvenient penalties have to stay

OPINION: Quibbles over the length of time taken by Formula 1's stewards over decisions are entirely valid. But however inconvenient it is, there can be no questioning the importance of having clearly defined rules that everyone understands and can stick to. Recent events have shown that ambiguity could have big consequences

Formula 1
Nov 23, 2021
The mistakes Red Bull cannot afford to repeat in F1 2021's title fight climax Prime

The mistakes Red Bull cannot afford to repeat in F1 2021's title fight climax

OPINION: Red Bull has had Formula 1’s fastest package for most of 2021, but in several of the title run-in events it has wasted the RB16B’s potential. It cannot afford to do so again with Lewis Hamilton motoring back towards Max Verstappen in the drivers’ standings with two rounds remaining

Formula 1
Nov 23, 2021
Qatar Grand Prix driver ratings Prime

Qatar Grand Prix driver ratings

Qatar was a virtual unknown for most as Formula 1 made its inaugural visit to the Gulf state, and tyre management quickly emerged as an even more critical factor than normal. Perhaps then it should come as no surprise that two of the championship's elder statesmen produced standout drives

Formula 1
Nov 22, 2021