Seven-times Formula 1 champion Lewis Hamilton dispelled the “myth” surrounding a chassis swap with Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas after qualifying for today’s French Grand Prix.
Hamilton and Bottas had swapped chassis for this weekend’s race at the Paul Ricard circuit as part of a planned rotation, Mercedes said in the build-up.
As a result, the Briton has been driving the chassis used by Bottas in the last four races, including a nightmare last round in Baku, while the Finn has the chassis that has carried Hamilton to three wins from six races.
Mercedes said both chassis were identical, but the swap, coinciding with an upswing in form for Bottas and greater struggles for Hamilton, has led to speculation and conspiracy theories.
“I saw you coming up with some myth so I was happy to be able to prove you wrong,” Hamilton told Sky Sports F1 commentator and former racer Paul di Resta in the post-qualifying interviews. “The quality of our engineers’ work, (our) cars are exactly the same.”
Hamilton qualified second on Saturday, behind Red Bull pole-sitter Max Verstappen but ahead of Bottas in third. The fired-up Finn, who headed into the weekend with speculation surrounding his Mercedes future, had led Hamilton through all three practice sessions.
After beating Bottas in qualifying, Hamilton admitted to struggling but said that had more to do with getting the car in the optimum operating window: “As you can see today I managed to do a great job with the same car. So it’s no different.
“We’re just in general struggling with getting everything from the tyres and getting the car in the right window,” added the reigning F1 World Champion.
Bottas agreed, saying: “I think it’s more in the head. You think some chassis is better, some not, so I don’t think there´s much difference.”
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff shed further light on the matter: “On the mileage, we have four carryover chassis and probably if you investigate with the other big teams like Ferrari and Red Bull, they should also have carryover chassis rather than producing a new one because a new one would be too expensive.
“So we have carried over four chassis. One [chassis five] had a bit of an oops in Imola. These were all chassis that have won races over the last two years, chassis that now have been utilised by everybody, by both drivers.
“So there is a plan at the beginning of the season, which chassis goes where. If there is one with damage, when can we patch it up, when will it come back in the box as a spare chassis. There is no other thinking behind it.
“The chassis is the monocoque. It is a carbon ‘bathtub’ that is stiff, keeps the drivers safe and is the backbone of the car.
“In the modern-day and age, when chassis come back to the factory they are laser scanned, they are checked for stiffness and if there is the slightest deviation, the chassis is not being utilised anymore,” explained Wolff whose cars will start the French Grand Prix from second and third on the grid. (Reporting by Abhishek Takle)