Battered and bruised, Lewis Hamilton loves the punishment he is receiving from his more physically demanding Mercedes this season.
Because if some extra soreness is the price for increased speed, then Hamilton and Formula 1’s other drivers say they are more than happy to pay it.
“I’m finding the car is much more physical to drive than in the past,” Hamilton said during last week’s first preseason test near Barcelona.
Drivers will have a second round of getting used to their new generation F1 cars on the same track from Tuesday to Friday.
“I think the cars look fantastic, the tires look fantastic, the wider wheels, the wider body and the wider chassis,” Hamilton said. “Hopefully it is great for the fans.”
Wider means faster, since the added width on tires and wings increases the car’s grip to the track and lets drivers hit higher speeds while veering through curves. And those faster corners translate into added stress in the form of G-force pummeling drivers’ bodies lap after lap, turn after turn.
“It’s so much faster in the corners. The force you feel on your body and on your neck is much higher,” Hamilton said. “I’ve got bruises and bumps where I’ve never really had them before.”
“These are the hardest cars I have ever driven,” Hamilton told F1.com in a separate interview. “My guess is that in the next couple of months we will see transformation in peoples’ neck sizes and their physical presence.”
Hamilton was not alone in his praise for the results of the biggest rulebook change since 2014 aimed at reinvigorating F1, and possibly producing a challenge to Mercedes’ three-year reign at the top.
Retired champion Nico Rosberg marveled firsthand at the cars he won’t get to drive when he visited the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya last week.
“They look like proper monsters, I mean, wow,” the former Mercedes driver said. “With those cars the drivers need to be gladiators out there. The cars are going to take them to the limit, physically also, even now they’re hurting bad, all of them.
“That’s how it should be also. It should take the drivers physically to their absolute limits. And maybe we’ll even see some races where someone will lose a win because he’s just knackered. That would be exciting.”
For Fernando Alonso, regardless of the problems his McLaren team is having, there is simply no contest: The cars in recent years were neither fast nor furious.
“I apologize to the fans for the last five or six years that they saw horrible cars,” Alonso said, adding that the new cars allow drivers “to express your driving style” and not have to hold back as they did before in order to save their tires.
Valtteri Bottas, Rosberg’s replacement at Mercedes, was quickest through the first four days of testing, setting the fastest time since layout changes were made at the Barcelona track a decade ago.
Bottas said that he and the rest of the field had gone through more rigorous workouts over the winter to prepare for the more difficult drives.
“I modified my training regime to fit to the requirements of the new cars and its G-forces,” Bottas said. “And it worked well, as I felt super in the car right away.”
Felipe Massa, who briefly retired after last season only to be lured back to Williams after Bottas left, said that his focus was on keeping in better shape.
“I took a new trainer straight away and immediately started to train hard every day. I’m working and training more than ever,” Massa said. “And I am 35 years old so need to train even more. That was a big task. But when you decide to come back you have to do it in a proper way.”
What is still to be seen is if the faster speeds that drivers relish will translate to more exciting races for those watching from the stands and on television.
Wider cars that take up more track could hinder overtaking, and leave F1 with the nagging problem of boring races of the best cars speeding away from the pack.
“There is definitely less space compared to previous years,” Renault driver Nico Hulkenberg said. “So yes, when I think about it my guess is that racing will get tougher.”
Hamilton also has his doubts about the new cars really leading to change because this season’s more resistant tires will mean fewer pit stops, and thus fewer breaks in the flow of the race.
“I was behind a couple of cars out there and it was harder to follow but that is to be expected,” the three-time former champion said. “The tires are so hard. They keep going and going. So it is most likely we will be doing a lot more one-stoppers and as there is not any degradation less mistakes and less overtaking. That is my prediction.”