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Hamilton despair “something wrong” with his Mercedes

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Lewis Hamilton told his team there was “something wrong” with his Mercedes after ending day one of Formula 1 practice for the 2024 Australian Grand Prix on Friday.

Later, the problem was explained by team boss Toto Wolff as a setup experiment that “dramatically backfired” and showed a lack of understanding of their W15.

The seven-time F1 World Champion visibly struggled with a snap-happy car, that had him in the dirt more than once today. Including a trip through Albert Park’s kitty-litter that damaged the floor of the #44 Mercedes. Hamilton reported over the radio: “Something’s wrong…”

So wrong that in FP2, Hamilton was only good enough for P18 (only Kevin Magnussen was slower in the Haas) and a massive 1.5 seconds down on Charles Leclerc’s best time in the Ferrari

Hamilton was also nearly a full second down on teammate George Russell, who found a sweeter spot in the Mercedes W15, which is looking to be the worst piece of kit produced by the former World Champions since their return to F1 back in 2010.

The reason according to Wolff: “We have achieved to experiment, but we haven’t unlocked performance. In the second session, we have gone through quite a dramatic set-up change on Lewis and that has dramatically backfired, but this is why we’re having those sessions.

Regarding Russell’s performance on the day, Wolff added: “On the other side, it was a bit better [with Russell] but we are lacking performance. On a single lap, if he finishes that lap, we are a bit better, but overall it wasn’t a good day.”

Wolff: We have everything we need in order to get on top of that and we will

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Asked if frustration is creeping into the team, Wolff reckoned: “If I said I am not frustrated it would not be the truth. Certainly, we are because we are trying so much in all directions but don’t seem to have found that silver bullet yet which helps us to get us in the right direction. But we have got to keep trying.

“We have seen performance in this car before and I just don’t want to go back and say we are not good in these regulations because we have everything we need in order to get on top of that and we will,” insisted Wolff.

Hamilton summed up his Friday Down Under: “It didn’t feel great out there. We began the day on the front foot and in FP1, the car generally felt good. The first run was actually the best the car has felt so far this year.

“To continue our learning, we made some big changes into FP2 and unfortunately, that made the car worse. It was tough but there are positives we can take from the first session. We will be working hard overnight to make improvements ahead of Saturday,” added the Briton.

Inadvertently or not Hamilton pinpointed the problem at Mercedes. The setup changes made between FP1 and FP2, which they must have expected would take them forward, backfired as the team boss admitted above.

This suggests that much like last year and the year before, Mercedes engineers have no clue about how to develop the W15. let alone figure out what makes it fast or not, as the ‘dart-throwing-in-the-wind’ exercise during sessions today in Melbourne proved. They missed the dartboard, so forget getting near the bull’s eye.

Shovlin: Lewis felt that we had gone in the wrong direction with our changes

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Mercedes trackside engineer boss Andrew Shovlin offered more proof of their lack of fundamental understanding of the W15: We had a good FP1 session. The changes we made to improve our high-speed cornering performance and reduce the bouncing after Saudi Arabia seemed to be a good step in the right direction. Overall, the car was feeling quite good.”

But the ‘go-faster’ setup changes for the second session at Albert Park, made the car slower for Hamilton, as Shovlin explained: “Unfortunately, FP2 wasn’t as strong. Lewis felt that we had gone in the wrong direction with our changes.

“Frustratingly, they weren’t quick to unwind so he had to live with that throughout the session. George found the car a bit trickier in the windier conditions of FP2 compared to earlier in the day. We could have ended a bit higher up the time sheets had he not had a bit of damage.

“Overall though, it’s clear that we’ve got work to do overnight to improve the car,” concluded Shovlin.

Although slower than their Aston Martin customers but a tad quicker than the Merc-powered McLarens, Russell did a better job than Hamilton to finish P6 at day’s end for his efforts.

Russell: We are trying to understand this car further

Russell: We are trying to understand this car further mercedes melbouren f1

It was a better day for his teammate Russell, who reported: “We were pushing the limits today and I had a few moments out there. It was all under control in the end though. It was very tight out there in the first session with FP2 slightly more spread out.

“I was on for a really good lap on my last push on the Soft tyre, but just ran wide in the last two corners and picked up some minor damage to my front wing. Without that, I think we would have finished the session P3.

“We are trying to understand this car further and made some changes after Saudi Arabia. Every single lap is so valuable as you learn more about the car and try to get it into the sweet spot. We will have the team back at the factory working hard in the simulator to get more performance out of it.

“Let’s see what tomorrow brings. When you arrive the next day, it can often be very different,” was Russell’s parting shot.

Mercedes has FP3 to get sorted in time for Australian GP Qualifying on Saturday. They have Mount Everest to climb or a ‘Very Magic Button’ to find overnight if Hamilton is to claim his ninth P1 start at the iconic venue in Melbourne tomorrow. (Reporting by Agnes Carlier)