Bodywork damage cost Hamilton over half a second per lap, say Mercedes
Sunday saw what is becoming an increasingly familiar sight of late – an F1 podium ceremony without Lewis Hamilton on the top step. The reigning champion could manage no better than fourth place in Austria after picking up damage on his Mercedes – damage that left him powerless to challenge the top three.
Hamilton - who yesterday confirmed a two-year contract extension with Mercedes - made up a place at the start to run third and eventually found his way past the racy McLaren of Lando Norris. However, as title rival Max Verstappen was pulling away up front, his race started to unravel after some heavy contact with the Red Bull Ring’s Turn 10 kerbs.
“It looks like the bodywork damage for Lewis was at the end of lap 29 just before we came in,” confirmed Andrew Shovlin, Mercedes’ trackside engineering director. “The downforce loss was around six or seven-tenths but as it was all from the rear, the balance become difficult and we were damaging the rears with sliding.”
That downforce loss meant there was nothing Hamilton could do to stop Bottas and Norris passing him on Lap 53 of 71, and despite then pitting again to try and rebalance the car with fresh tyres and a wing adjustment, he was forced to settle for P4, upping his deficit to Verstappen in the title race to 32 points.
The only consolation for Hamilton was the team’s confidence that they had made progress at the second Austrian round in terms of race pace, and that they should be closer to Red Bull when the paddock arrives at Silverstone for the British Grand Prix – including Formula 1’s first-ever Sprint qualifying event – in two weeks’ time.
“I think the result probably looks worse in terms of pace than the reality,” said team boss Toto Wolff. “We were stuck behind the McLaren which cost us a lot of time, otherwise our pace was good, maybe not enough to win the race but right up there at the front which is a step forward. Overall, not a bad damage limitation weekend.
“Morale in the team is good, we could see the improvement in race pace was from last weekend so we are making progress and eventually we will be competing for the win again. We are one DNF away from being right there in the constructors' and drivers' championships so this is far from over.”
And Wolff is, of course, right – we still have 14 rounds to come in 2021 and Mercedes trail Red Bull by only 44 points, with 631 still available including fastest lap and Sprint qualifying points.