Former Mercedes man, now Williams F1 Team principal James Vowles says that seven-time Formula 1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton is the most naturally talented driver he worked with, and that includes legend Michael Schumacher.
A stalwart of Mercedes before it was a works team, Vowles was with them back when it was BAR when it morphed into Honda, then Brawn GP and ultimately Mercedes when the German team returned to the top flight as a fully-fledged works team in 2010.
This means Vowles worked with the likes of Hamilton and Schumacher at Mercedes, as well as Jacques Villeneuve at BAR, Jenson Button at BrawnGP and Nico Rosberg also at Merc. Thus better placed than most to share his observations.
Speaking about the great F1 world champion drivers he has worked with in a recent High Performance Podcast, Vowles explained what made Hamilton stand out: “Lewis, when he joined us was, and still is today – within my Mercedes career – the most naturally talented driver that I have worked with, including Michael… just so much natural talent.
“He has 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.
“There was a time where on simulation in Brazil (Interlagos) it said to 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.”
“Lewis is 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. 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.
“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’,” heexplained.
Vowles: Braking is Hamilton’s strength, his forte
Hamilton has only raced for two teams in a career in the top flight that began in 2007. With McLaren, he scored 21 GP victories and claimed his first F1 world title crown in 2008 before switching to Mercedes in 2013. Lewis was 29 years old then. Today he is 39.
Vowles continued to provide insight into how Hamilton has evolved during the past decade: “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 is his strength, his forte. Maximise everything under braking and then, ‘I know the limits of the car, then I can build from there and get into the rhythm of things’.
“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,” recalled Vowles. The 44-year-old Englishman left Mercedes last year to take over as team principal at Williams.
Like his former colleague Vowles who departed the team at the start of 2023, Hamilton is also departing the Silver Arrows, albeit at the end of 2024, to join Ferrari in 2025. With it ends a legacy that includes a record 103 GP victories and seven F1 World Championship titles all with Mercedes power.
In fairness to Schumacher, Vowles did not work with the great German driver during his heyday at Ferrari. James caught Michael during the second chapter of his great F1 career.
Nevertheless, Schumi was still instrumental in ‘giving birth’ to the Mercedes team’s second F1 coming, setting the foundation for the immense force it became after Hamilton replaced him.