Hamilton’s adverse 2013

2013 was woeful for Lewis Hamilton. The 28-year-old only had five podium appearances during 2013, a feat matched by the beleaguered 2009 season in the McLaren MP4-24. In fact it was the first time in his career that he failed to score more than one victory in a season (he managed two in ’09). Here, we aim to establish issues the world champion suffered with over the course of the 2013 F1 season.

PASTURES NEW

In January Hamilton arrived at his new base in Brackley. It is a new and wholly different environment to the one he had long become accustomed to at Woking. A factory less eminent to that of McLaren’s metallic, clean mega structure set upon a pristine, gleaming lake. New surroundings, faces and names to memorise. The only man Lewis truly knew was his team mate Nico Rosberg. Throughout their youth the two traveled and raced against each other in several junior series’. They grew up with each other. Hamilton now lives just a stones-throw away from the German after he bought an apartment last year in Monaco.

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Its not just communicating with new faces, its adapting to a completely different F1 car. No one car is the same. Lewis would have had to get used to all the different buttons on the steering wheels, the different maps the car runs, the different terminology and codes that team engineers use.

BRAKES

Mercedes used a ‘FRIC’ (Front and Rear Interconnection) suspension this year, a system which helps stabalise the cars pitch under braking and roll through corners. By the time the F1 circus headed to Europe, it was the much talked about must-have device. And whilst this helped Lewis gain lap time over his rivals, it wasn’t long before Mercedes’ rivals caught up and other problems developed.

In June, Lewis conceded that he was struggling with the brakes, in comparison to Rosberg. At McLaren, Lewis had always used Carbone Industrie. A brake material he could always rely on to give him the power to stop as late as possible in the braking zones. Late-braking was Lewis’ forte. It had a different feel to the Brembo brakes he now uses on his Mercedes car. The Brembo is more adept to braking and turning at the same time, its a driving brake.

Back in Montreal, Hamilton told the press that he wants to evolve for the long term rather than look for the short term solution: “I can change them if I want or I can just get used to them, and I prefer to grab a hold of it, get used to them and do a good job.”

He had tried going back to the factory over the summer to alter his driving style, by braking in a different manner and allowing the car to slide into a corner and progressing on the throttle: “I’ve been working in the simulator, using different techniques. There are a lot you can use: for example, lift and coast in a race situation, so instead of braking at 100m, you lift at 120m and brake at 80m; or later downshifts.”

The Brembo’s are not Lewis’ friend and it shows on track. So often this season, Lewis has been unable to attack into a braking zone, or more worryingly, he has been unable to defend himself from an overtake. He has looked far out of his comfort zone. On more than one occasion this year the Brit has been overtaken around the outside, something he had proudly boasted about never happening to him. Braking has been the biggest thorn in Lewis’ side all year long. It is yet to be seen whether Mercedes will cave into placing his much favoured Carbone Industrie brakes on his 2014 machinery.

TYRES

Tyres were the biggest talking point for the first part of the season. Many teams and drivers couldn’t make them work .Mercedes problem was the tyre not lasting long enough to do a sensible stint in the race. It was not uncommon to see a silver Mercedes on Pole for Sundays race.

The chassis was very good at generating tyre temperature straight out of the pits, so the tyres always had good heat for the first qualifying runs. However, it was tyre degradation and heat management that was the issue. There were more than a few times when we heard the team over the radio telling drivers to preserve rear wear rates or that the rears were heating up too much. Lewis’ problem was actually trying to generate temperature from the brakes, which almost ‘osmosises’ through the rims and into tyre itself.  During qualifying Hamilton could take half a lap to generate enough tyre temperature to have confidence in the car, by then he would have already lost a significant amount of time.

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Then there was the British Grand Prix. A race which Hamilton was leading comfortably until the tyre cried no more and exploded. The fault was with the kevlar belt in the rim. Hamilton wasn’t the only one to suffer that race.

Towards the second half of 2013, Pirelli brought along last years compounds for the remaining races. The Mercedes cars did not suffer with massive degradation anymore, but they did not have the raw pace of the Red Bull, which was allowed to scamper away into the distance. Fortunately Pirelli look like they will be bringing a stronger, slightly more durable compound for the 2014 season, which means cars with higher downforce will be rewarded as drivers should be able to push to the absolute maximum.

PERSONAL

Hamilton is a lot ‘stockier’ today to that of the young boy who walked into the sport back in 2007. Back then he weighed a slight 66kgs. He is clearly more muscular in the upper body and arms, and whilst this may look athletic, it comes at a massive cost. Additional weight is a Formula One designers nightmare. An extra 5kg generally will cost around two tenths of a second per lap, a huge amount in Formula One terms. Lewis now weighs 71kgs, thats 5kg more than he did seven years ago. But it is a far cry off the 58kg that four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel weighs.

Lewis’ love life never seems to be out of the tabloids. It’s no secret it has affected him in the past, his emotionless celebration of Pole Position in Korea 2011 was due to his split with pop singer Nicole Scherzinger. Since then the relationship had been on and off. Lewis is an emotional driver, we hear it over the radio at races. He just needs to focus and channel his energy onto the race track.

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He has allowed personal issues to affect his racing before when he decided he no longer wanted his dad as a manager. Since then he has long craved for the family feel in his garage. Last year at McLaren he admitted that he was envious of Jenson Button’s entourage of family, friends and management. He may well require that to help him feel more relieved at the back of the silver garage.

Lewis attended a lot less sponsorship and partner events during 2013. This year was the first year where Lewis felt that the shackles were released. He was no longer required to be demure. Mercedes had no intention of holding him back or slowing him down. Less frequent sponsorship events were a driving factor in his transfer to the Silver Arrows. He had long become bored of having so many days of the year dedicated to sponsor events at McLaren.

Lewis will try and develop his driving style for next year, all the drivers will, the new engines will require it. He will have time to compare the data for braking styles between him and Rosberg over the course of 2013. He will have to go away and get leaner if he is to fight at the front. He will hope that this year is just a blip, after all  he could have had a nightmare year similar to that of former team mate Jenson Button.

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