Floor designer

Lewis Hamilton defended by Toto Wolff after Azerbaijan Grand Prix qualifying

The Azerbaijan Grand Prix is ​​live on 5 Live and the BBC Sport website

Mercedes Formula 1 boss Toto Wolff has defended Lewis Hamilton after the seven-time champion was overqualified by teammate George Russell for the third race in a row.

Hamilton qualified seventh for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, two places and 0.212 seconds behind Russell, who was 1.353 seconds off the pole time set by Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari.

Wolff said Hamilton had tried different setups on his car as the team tried to work through its performance issues.

“Lewis tried some pretty experimental parts of the car and there was a different floor solution on his car that didn’t work,” Wolff said.

Wolff said that although Hamilton had now lost to Russell in Spain, Monaco and Baku, it was “too early to identify a role model”.

Wolff said: “I’m very close to it and I see that one session is faster then the next one is. And because the car is on the edge, if you get the wrong foot, in terms of of experiments on the car – what needs to be done so that we learn how to perform and where to put the car – there are 0.2-0.3 seconds immediately between them.

“And the last three races, those experiences went wrong with Lewis and not with George.”

Russell has a five-three lead in Mercedes driver qualifying, but the score is three-all when only races in which a fair comparison is possible are taken into account, and then Hamilton is actually slightly faster on average.

Wolff said that in Baku Hamilton’s car had a different set-up which exacerbated the core issues Mercedes have been struggling with this season.

“The car was getting more and more porpoising and sinking to such a degree that it was getting dangerous and couldn’t extract performance,” he said.

Bottom line has been the main problem plaguing Mercedes this season.

The team felt they could have fixed it with a new floor design introduced two races ago during the Spanish Grand Prix.

But although this seems to have solved porpoising – an aerodynamic problem caused by the disruption of airflow under the car – the car still crashes too much on the track.

Russell said: “The bottoming has been extreme. We’ve finally gotten the porpoising issue under control and now we’re so close to the ground to get the maximum aero benefit and it’s just brutal out there, being tossed to pieces.

“You can barely see where to brake at the end of the straight because it bounces so much.

“I don’t think we’re the only car. I think maybe half the grid is in the same boat and, frustratingly, Ferrari is in the same boat, but they kind of seem to make it work. Everyone is working really hard to try and fix these issues.”

Hamilton said he was struggling, mostly because of the flat creases at the start of Baku’s long straight.

“For me, it was just about keeping the thing off the wall in fast, high-speed corners,” he said. “We changed so many different things that we can’t manage to (fix). In Barcelona we didn’t have it, but everywhere else we had it.”

Hamilton arrived in the paddock under an umbrella

Russell’s security issues

Russell believes the bottom line is a sport-wide safety issue, and he raised the matter with governing body the FIA ​​during the drivers’ briefing on Friday.

The problem arose this year following the introduction of new rules where the cars have a different aerodynamic philosophy compared to last year.

They use a phenomenon known as “ground effect”, generating downforce by channeling air under the cars, which requires the cars to be lower than before for optimal performance.

Russell said: It’s only a matter of time before we see a major incident. Many of us can barely keep cars straight over those bumps.

“We’re turning the last two corners at 300km/h, at the lowest you can see how close the cars are to the ground. It’s not necessary with the technology we have in the current environment to run an F1 car at over 200 millimeters mph from the ground and that’s a recipe for disaster.

“I don’t really know what the future holds, but I don’t think we can sustain this for three years or as long as these regulations are in place.”

The FIA ​​is open to discussing the idea, but so far there is no general consensus on the need for changes.

Russell was in the minority at the driver briefing, insiders said, although Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz also expressed concerns about it.

Hamilton added: “It can be a safety issue, of course. Today he hits the corners at 180mph – big dip – and there’s not really much we can do to stop him. We can’t having that for four years of that car. They have to work on it. All the drivers have talked about it.”

Hamilton said he woke up in pain on Saturday morning following the dip, but added he had discussed the matter with his former team-mate Valtteri Bottas, who is now at Alfa Romeo, and the Finn had stated that his car did not have the problem.

And there is no general agreement that cars need to be changed, especially so early in a new set of regulations.

At Saturday’s official press conference, Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto and his counterpart at Haas Gunther Steiner both said it was too early to draw conclusions.

Wolff said: “We’ve seen cars that don’t have the problem. And then others that have it have worse, clearly.

“I can speak for our two drivers: they have problems and it’s going to a point where even a physio can’t fix it sometimes. So we have to see how it evolves. And also understand why it’s much more difficult in some cars.” than in others.”

There is no chance that 80% of the teams will agree to make changes, as the rules would require. The FIA ​​could impose changes for safety reasons, but that doesn’t seem to be on the horizon.

New F1 Cars: Front and rear fenders allow for smoother airflow.  New
The new design rules for 2022

And the race?

Leclerc’s pole position on Saturday was another standout performance from the 2022 qualifying king, as he pulled it all together on his final lap to take pole with a further 0.3-second lead.

But the races didn’t go so well for the Ferrari man.

He’s seen a 55-point swing against him in the championship in the last four races, all won by Red Bull, and although Leclerc has six poles from eight races, he hasn’t converted one into a win since the third race of the season in Australia.

Verstappen was a winner on merit at Imola and Miami, but in Spain and Monaco Ferrari lost what should have been victories, with engine failure for Leclerc in Barcelona and a lapse in strategy at Monaco.

Leclerc was overtaken by Verstappen as the world champion won in Saudi Arabia, Imola and Miami. But he believes Ferrari’s racing pace and tire management have been improved by the aero upgrade they introduced in Spain.

“I’m really excited for tomorrow,” he said. “I think we will have quite a few answers tomorrow because tire management is an important element here.

“In Barcelona and Monaco we are managing well, although in Monaco it was hard to see anything. But overall our racing pace has increased since we brought the upgrade. So tomorrow will be very interesting to know if this will be the case here as well.

“I just want to finish the job. The last two weekends I’ve already said this on Saturday and it didn’t happen on Sunday. So we have to do it… I mean, we don’t need to make it work, but it will be great if we make it work tomorrow.

“Let’s see how it goes in the first laps and then I’ll try to keep the lead.”

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