“It is disappointing. I think today we have performed less as a team. There are things we should have done that we haven’t.”. That criticism was made this Friday by a despondent Lewis Hamilton after placing 13th in the classification test from Formula 1 of the Emilia Romagna Grand Prixin Imola, Italy. The day was disastrous in sports for the Mercedes team, which did not reach Q3 with either of its two cars, in which the world champion, the Dutchman Max Verstappen, achieved the best time to start in the pole the sprint race this Saturday.
“It wasn’t a great session, naturally it’s disappointing. You come here with optimism and you know that everyone is working very hard in the factory, and things just don’t work out”, lamented the Briton, a seven-time champion, who seems to have collapsed after losing the title in the last lap last year. This season, his start is worrying: this is the second time in four rounds that Hamilton has failed to make it to Q3. He even missed out on Q1 in Saudi Arabia, and, to make matters worse, since Japan 2012 Mercedes did not have at least one of its cars in the final stage of qualifying.
The German brand no longer suffers only for its star driver, but for both, because neither George Russell this time he agreed to the last 10 minutes, which define the front half of the grid. The also Englishman was 11th and the discomfort grew due to the impotence, since a red flag for an oversight of the Spanish Carlos Sainz after the first starts of Q2 that session was delayed, the rain came to the circuit and that sealed the deal: there was no possibility of improving the times in those conditions. In fact, Hamilton had made it to Q2 almost by miracle, for just 4/1000.
Compact of the classification test in Imola
“We will work as hard as we can to advance in the sprint race. It’s going to be a difficult race, but hopefully the weather will be better and, who knows, maybe we’ll move on”, hoped Lewis, who will have the opportunity, like Russell, to progress in those 21 laps this Saturday. The sprints take the place of the traditional qualifying event in three grands prix of the year from 2021. Their results, in addition to distributing points, determine the starting order on Sunday. This season, sprint races will deliver more rewards: instead of awarding first (3 units) to third (1), they will award points to the top eight (8 to the winner and 1 to the eighth).
“Does the sprint mean there is still something to salvage from the weekend? We will continue to work hard. Every weekend is a rescue,” said Hamilton, who chose not to go public with his back-of-the-pits conversation with crew chief Toto Wolff. “These are internal things”, blocking. That talk is possibly of great relevance in the future because the speed problems were more serious than expected at the start of the championship and Wolff himself announced a novelty in the single-seater from Imola, the B-spec. For the Austrian this competition is a test bench that has expectations far above what happened in the qualifying test.
If what Mercedes hopes happens, it would not only be a turning point in the silver datesbut it would also transcend in a contest that is initially dominated by Ferrari and, especially, by charles leclerc, who won in Bahrain and Australia, was on the podium in Saudi Arabia and is 34 points clear. In the sprint race, the Monegasque will start second.
The positive for Hamilton, Russell, Wolff and Mercedes is that the team managed to clarify the big problem of the W13: the “porpoise” (“pitch” of the car) hits the ground due to the new ground effect aerodynamics and that causes a loss of time on the straights and, above all, in the curves. Knowing that, the team longs for the spirit of its drivers to revive, the cars to be faster and to change its face after the bad start to the year.
“If there is a weekend where we are not where we are, a sprint race is the one. We have the opportunity to make up positions, although normally in sprints not much happens and I don’t think there are enough laps with enough tire degradation for us to gain an advantage”, analyzed Russell.
This season, as an incentive, Formula 1 increased the distribution of points in races of 100 kilometers and around half an hour, which will take place in Imola, Austria (July 9) and Brazil (November 12). For Mercedes today, accessing these positions already represents a triumph.