RACE DEBRIEF

    James Vowles has named Lewis Hamilton as the driver who stood out the most in terms of natural talent during his lengthy stint at Mercedes, which also included time working with the likes of Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg.

    Vowles, now Williams’ Team Principal, started his F1 career with BAR back in 2001 and stayed with the Brackley operation through transitions to Honda, Brawn GP and eventually Mercedes, when the German brand opted to return to the sport in a works team capacity.

    ANALYSIS: Progress behind the scenes and an exciting driver pairing – why the future looks bright for Williams

    Speaking on the High Performance Podcast, Vowles was asked about his experiences working with talents such as Hamilton, Schumacher and Rosberg, and he reserved special praise for the now seven-time world champion.

    “Lewis, when he joined us [in 2013] was, and still is today… within my Mercedes career, the most naturally talented driver that I have worked with there, including Michael – just so much natural talent,” said Vowles, who headed up Mercedes’ strategy team before leaving for Williams last year.

    “He’s got these tendencies and traits where, when you go out in FP1, he’s like an octopus all over the wheel; he’ll change every setting all over the wheel near enough and explore it, but it’s what makes him incredible.

    hamilton-vowles-podium-2019.png
    Vowles and Hamilton enjoyed plenty of success together at Mercedes

    “There was a time where on simulation in Brazil it said go into seventh gear up the hill. Within two laps Nico was doing exactly as we asked him to do, within two laps Lewis went, ‘This doesn’t feel right’, went back down to sixth and was finding a tenth there, and it took until the end of the session before Nico saw the data and saw that.

    “He’s this optimiser that he’ll use data as a starting ground but he’s got a feel beyond anything else for it, and he has no issue exploring the boundaries.”

    READ MORE: ‘The hardest decision I’ve ever had to make’ – Hamilton opens up on ‘childhood dream’ Ferrari switch

    Vowles added that Hamilton’s approach was not without its downsides as he frequently ventured off-track during practice runs to find “the absolute limit of braking”, compromising the data Mercedes could work with post-session.

    However, he also noted just how much the now 39-year-old – who will be swapping Mercedes for Ferrari in 2025 – has developed in that regard over the years.

    “You’d often see him go off at Turn 1, he’d find the absolute limit of braking, and it would just push him wide at Turn 1, then [he would] abort the lap,” added Vowles. “One of our biggest frustrations with him was that out of 20 laps, he did one, and you’re like, ‘Come on, you’ve got to do more than that’.

    Lewis Hamilton signs for Ferrari in 2025

    “Actually, if you look at the maturity Lewis had between 2013 to now, you’ll see he completes every lap, he’s now found a way of still gaining the experience, but he was this perfectionist.

    “Braking was his strength, his forte… maximise everything under braking and then [thinking], ‘I know the limits of the car, then I can build from there and get into the rhythm of things’.

    BUXTON: Hamilton’s Ferrari move is the biggest driver signing in F1 history – and the prospects are delicious

    “He knows in just a few laps in FP1 – and he learns the track incredibly quickly – what the boundaries of the car are, what the limits are already within his tools that he has available on the steering wheel, which are quite vast, for what it's worth.

    “He understands therefore how to get the car into the right positioning for as the grip comes up. It’s very, very impressive. Where others are still spending seven or eight laps learning the track, he’s explored quite a bit of the boundaries.”

    Hamilton is gearing up for his 18th season in the sport in 2024, while his new “multi-year” deal with Ferrari means he will race on into his 40s and take that tally to 20.