Lewis Hamilton is in a particularly enviable position in 2013: he has moved to a team in which he is not expected to win the World Championship, at least not this year. Therefore, there is almost zero external pressure to perform. If he wins the title, he’ll be hailed as a hero. If he doesn’t, then nobody will criticise him – he’s not expected to have the car to deliver a title this year anyway.
In many respects, Hamilton is in a similar position to that of Michael Schumacher at Ferrari in 1996. Schumacher had left a top team and gone to Italy to rescue the struggling Ferrari team. It was clear that Schumacher would not challenge for the title that year, and he didn’t, but he also put in some inspired and brilliant performances, particularly in Spain where he dominated a sodden Grand Prix and made the other drivers look like amateurs. Schumacher may not have won the title, but his stock certainly went up as he was recognised for his supreme skill in a difficult car.
Hamilton has similarly moved from a top team (McLaren) to one that was not a title challenger last season (Mercedes). In the last three seasons, the works Mercedes team has won just a single race and never looked like producing a title-winning car. Hamilton has arrived at the team as part of a shake-up intended to deliver championship glory to Mercedes. At the earliest, he and the team are expected to challenge at the front in 2014, when new engine regulations are likely to benefit teams like Mercedes that manufacture their own engines. So this season is dedicated to development, to making sure the pieces are in place for a title challenge next year.
But Hamilton, much like Schumacher back in 1996, is a racer. He is acknowledged as perhaps the quickest driver in Formula One today, and can always be counted on to give his all on the track in pursuit of results. Hamilton does not like coming second. So we can expect him to push with everything he has for victory in 2013.
If Hamilton and Mercedes to triumph against the odds in 2013, it will be a great story for Formula One: the return of one of the great names of motoring to the top of the racing ladder, along with the second title that seems inevitable in Hamilton’s career. On the other hand, if as expected Hamilton and Mercedes have a strong but ultimately unsuccessful season, it will all be accepted as part of the development plan.
After losing time to an electrical failure on day one and a hydraulic failure on day two of the first pre-season test in Jerez, Mercedes were back on track for day three. Nico Rosberg racked up a massive total of 148 laps, easily topping the distance charts for the day, in the W04 as the team continued to evaluate the new car.
148 laps of the Jerez circuit is a long, long way to drive in a Formula One car. Each lap is 4.428km long, which means Rosberg covered a little over 655km in a single day – over two full race distances. Esteban Gutierrez in the Sauber was next on 110 laps, some way behind Rosberg.
Although Mercedes put a lot of mileage on the new car, which is essential at this stage of testing, their work is only just beginning. With only 12 days of pre-season testing in total, and two mostly lost to reliability issues, the team has to effectively squash its testing schedule into 10 days – not ideal for a team that wants to win races this season.
But Mercedes are clearly going about recovering from their early setbacks as well as they possibly can. After his running ended prematurely on day two, new Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton said, “If we can get 110 to 120 laps per day then that would be a good comeback.” The team has easily beaten that aim, and will no doubt look to do so again when testing resumes on day four.
During his first day of testing as a Mercedes driver, Lewis Hamilton crashed the team’s new W04 in Jerez, Spain this morning after a failure of a hydraulic line to the right-rear brake caliper caused a loss of rear brake pressure. Hamilton escaped unhurt from the crash, but the car suffered some damage to the front wing and front suspension. Mercedes sat out the rest of the day’s testing in order to make the necessary repairs, but will be back in action tomorrow morning with Nico Rosberg in the cockpit.
It’s only the second day of pre-season testing, but Mercedes have now had problems on both days that have resulted in limited running. Yesterday saw the car stop on track due to an electrical failure after only three runs in the morning, and today’s accident happened after only 15 laps. The lack of running will be frustrating for all at Mercedes. After all, testing is all about spending time on the track to learn about the car and troubleshoot issues.
On the plus side for Mercedes, it is still early in the testing schedule, which means there is time to iron out issues like those yesterday and today that negatively impact the reliability of the car.
Hamilton will be back in the car for the final day of the Jerez test on Friday.
Lewis Hamilton has driven the new Mercedes W04 for the first time in Jerez today. Watch the video here: