By James Broughton, April 28, 2022
The new 2022 ground effect regulations, Mercedes’ porpoising issues, and being overshadowed by young gun teammate George Russell have overwhelmed Lewis Hamilton. That is the narrative being propagated by F1 pundits and critics of Lewis Hamilton. The other narrative is that Lewis Hamilton has had the best car for so long he doesn’t know how to drive a bad car. The latter is patently stupid on almost every level. Hamilton benefitted from having best car on the grid for maybe two seasons during his time at Mercedes. Indeed Hamilton’s ability to get the most out of his car has provided cover for Mercedes. For the 2022 season, it appears the minimal and radical side pod design adopted by Mercedes doesn’t work for ground effect era regulations.
The Mercedes W13 has massive porpoising issues. The car is effectively bouncing on air. The cause is related to the sidepods which expose much of the floor to high-speed air. With minimal sidepods, the W13 floor is exposed to flexing which causes the air beneath to stall which in turn causes the porpoising. Mercedes tried to brace the floor with struts, but to no effect, such is the power of ground-effect aerodynamics.
The easiest solution is to raise the W13’s ride height which will minimize the bouncing. Doing so negates the very essence of ground-effect aerodynamics. As a result, Mercedes are losing performance. Mercedes have gone from race winners to mid-fielders. However, if the porpoising can be resolved then it will unlock the full potential of the W13 and move Mercedes back to the front. Easier said than done.
While Hamilton has struggled teammate George Russell has flourished. By comparison, Russell appears to be making the best of the tool he has at his disposal. Russell currently sits 4th in the drivers standings, 21 points ahead of Hamilton who is 7th. While Hamilton enjoyed an unexpected journey to the podium at the first race of the season, he has struggled in the last two races.
At Imola, as Mercedes adapted to a new life in the mid-field, Russell dominated Hamilton. Doubts are starting to creep in about Hamilton’s longevity in the sport due to his recent race struggles. But you don’t go from being an exceptional racer to quitting overnight if things aren’t going your way.
However, 4 races in and Hamilton’s 2022 championship season is over because Mercedes can not seem to find an easy and quick solution to get back to the front. In Formula One it is very rare for a slow car to suddenly become a race leading car in the next race even if Mercedes dump the current so-called zero-sidepod design philosophy.
Will Mercedes’ current form force Hamilton to consider retirement? No, not at all. The Captain always goes down with the ship, Hamilton will not abandon his. Hamilton has re-written the record books and when the time is right he will pen the ending to his chapter in Formula One.