Hamilton urges his Mercedes team to improve communication
SAKHIR, Bahrain (AP) World champion Lewis Hamilton wants a rapid improvement in communication from his Mercedes team during races.
Two races into the Formula One season he’s already disgruntled, and with good reason considering rival Sebastian Vettel has won them both. The Ferrari driver clinched the Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday, with Hamilton third, to follow up his success at the season-opening Australian GP.
”It is very marginal now,” Hamilton said. ”It really highlights the importance of communication and these smaller things that can make a difference. Those extra points.”
Hamilton’s frustration has continued from Melbourne, where a team computer error gifted Vettel the victory. Hamilton was in control but finished second because Mercedes’ data incorrectly calculated the time gap when Vettel, last year’s F1 runner-up, went into the pit lane.
Hamilton’s performance in Bahrain was an excellent damage limitation exercise, considering he started ninth on the grid because of an unauthorized gearbox change. But the British driver felt he could have done better with a clearer attacking strategy, having sensed an opportunity to strike.
Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen was out after accidentally breaking a team mechanic’s leg , and a worried Vettel was struggling to hold his lead on fading tires. Yet Hamilton was unclear how hard he could push his tires in the remaining 15 laps, spending too much time on a malfunctioning team radio figuring out what to do.
”I was driving in no-man’s land for a while, that’s something we need to work on,” Hamilton said. ”The radio wasn’t working properly. They couldn’t hear me, I could hear them. When you try to give feedback on a corner, you’re taking your mind off driving a perfect line.”
Mercedes has won the constructors’ and drivers’ double for the past four years, but cracks in the armor are appearing.
While Hamilton’s criticism is not ”aimed at one person” in particular, he wants a response at the Chinese GP next week.
”We will definitely sit down and communicate a bit better, sit down and discuss the last two races,” Hamilton said. ”I can’t afford to lose any more points to Sebastian.”
Hamilton’s strive for perfection also works against him at times, for he lets frustrations linger.
”If you look at the last race (in Australia), we should have won that and through struggling to understand how we operate, communicate, we did lose the race,” Hamilton said. ”There were things we could have done to make sure we came out ahead.”
Following that setback, there was a clear breakdown in understanding between him and his race engineers in Bahrain.
”I don’t understand what I’ve got to do,” Hamilton said on lap 43 when told to target a lap time of ”low 34s,” or 1 minute, 34 seconds.
”I am doing 34.3, is that enough?” a bewildered Hamilton replied, later adding, ”Feels like you guys are not giving me much of a picture.”
With 62 wins and a record 73 pole positions, Hamilton is in a position to be so demanding.
”To make the strategy work we need to make sure we’re all on the same understanding. (Saying) `Just do this time’ doesn’t really tell me anything. You won’t hit your target lap, you lose time. It’s like climbing up a mountain with slippery mud, that’s how it feels.”
Ferrari’s strategy of only a one-stop race caught out Mercedes, which anticipated Vettel coming in for a second tire change. He didn’t and held on to beat Valtteri Bottas – Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate – by 0.7 seconds in a thrilling contest.
”I would say 90 percent probability was on us winning, and we lost,” Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff said.
Hamilton has not won any of the past five races. It is his longest drought since 2016, when he lost his F1 title to teamate Nico Rosberg.
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Jerome Pugmire on Twitter: http://twitter.com/jeromepugmire