How Mercedes handled Hamilton's Monaco qualifying annoyance - The Race
Formula 1

How Mercedes handled Hamilton’s Monaco qualifying annoyance

May 23 2021
By Scott Mitchell

Mercedes accepts the “tough” and “direct” debrief it had with Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton because it recognises the errors it made in Monaco Grand Prix qualifying, says team boss Toto Wolff.

Hamilton starts a lowly seventh after an uncharacteristically poor qualifying performance that left him facing his worst grid position since the 2018 German Grand Prix, at a track where overtaking is notoriously difficult.

The seven-time world champion was in good spirits after Thursday practice but cut a terse figure after qualifying, which completed a difficult Saturday for the points leader.

Hamilton gave a blunt review of what happened in a rare post-qualifying Mercedes media session, which took place in lieu of his usual presence in the official FIA press conference for the top three qualifiers.

Team principal Wolff said it had been “a very productive and tough debriefing” that underpinned Mercedes’ mantra of it learning more from its defeats.

He conceded that “we didn’t provide Lewis with the right car to build up the confidence, based on a good-gripping car, that he would like to have” and said he was “not surprised” by the strong nature of Hamilton’s comments after qualifying.

Hamilton said he would be giving the team critical feedback in private and intimated he had wanted to go in a different direction on Saturday in light of the cooler conditions than Thursday, which may have avoided the problems he faced with the tyres.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Monaco Grand Prix Saturday Monte Carlo, Monaco

“First of all we want the drivers also to speak their mind,” said Wolff.

“There was a lot of frustration when you’re finishing P7 in Monaco, you know pretty much that’s potentially the end of the weekend.

“Then venting your frustration is absolutely OK. Nobody in the team takes it the hard way because we express it the other way around too.

“He’s the first one to acknowledge and to apologise when things go wrong, he’s done that in public and privately, and as a group that’s one of our big assets that made us champions in the past, that we are able to take it on the chin.

“There was one particular aspect of tyre heating that we discussed in the morning, and on Thursday night where we could have taken a different direction – a direction that he was interested to pursue that we didn’t.

“That was exactly the content of our discussions now, how can we go into an exploration mode when we expect much colder temperatures.”

The consequence of Mercedes’ decision was a role-reversal between Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas in terms of how they dealt with the limitations around tyre warm-up.

At other races where tyre warm-up has been a problem, such as Imola this year or last year’s Turkish GP, Bottas has been the one at a bigger disadvantage.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Monaco Grand Prix Saturday Monte Carlo, Monaco

But Wolff said Hamilton was sucked into a vicious cycle in Monaco, whereas Bottas topped Q1 and felt he could have nicked pole in Q3 without a late red flag.

“The cars were pretty much identical in qualifying,” said Wolff.

“But how you start the day and how you start the [final] free practice session is what sends you in the right direction.

“Valtteri was able to cope with the car that he had been in FP3 and then, you’ve seen his Q1 lap was quickest, and as per our predictions it would have been very close who was on pole between Charles [Leclerc], Max [Verstappen] and Valtteri, where we’ve seen Valtteri was ahead when the qualifying was red flagged.

“But you’re going off in a spin if you’re not confident in the car and this is what happened with Lewis.”

It leaves Hamilton facing a delicate task in damage limitation in the race.

He will likely retain the lead in the championship barring disaster, but the opportunity to make progress will probably depend on external factors falling his way.

However, Wolff said that the post-qualifying debrief had enabled the team to move on and focus on what can be achieved in the race.

“The discussion we had now was so direct that we can close the chapter of qualifying for the weekend,” said Wolff.

“We know where we need to work, things we need to tackle to make sure that similar weekends in the future go in a better direction.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Monaco Grand Prix Saturday Monte Carlo, Monaco

“Closing that chapter means concentrating on the race. P7 is certainly not a great starting point but who knows what happens. And Valtteri’s P3 is something that he can build upon.

“If we have a clever pitstop strategy, if our car goes long on the tyres which was always an asset this year, it opens up opportunities, and this is what we need to concentrate on.

“If we are ending third and seventh, we need to take it on the chin. If we can finish in better positions, I would very much hope so.

“But Monaco obviously isn’t the place where you have lots of overtaking opportunities.”

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