Lewis Hamilton worried Mercedes could get left behind by start changes

Hamilton portrait

Lewis Hamilton has raised concerns that changes to the start procedures set to be introduced in Spa on 23 August could have a major influence on the outcome of Formula One races.

Hamilton said that while he supports the changes he believes they could prove to be “disastrous” when put into practice and will require adjustment.

Hamilton took only sixth place in the Hungarian Grand Prix on Sunday, with his Mercedes team-mate, Nico Rosberg in eighth. Both had very poor starts and were jumped off the line by the race winner, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel. It is becoming something of an issue for the team, with Hamilton slow off the line in Austria and both drivers again jumped by the Williams cars during the last round at Silverstone.

The FIA intends to enforce rule changes, limiting the instruction drivers can receive on the grid regarding settings in order to maximise their escape, to put more control in the drivers’ hands from the next race, the Belgian Grand Prix on 23 August. Hamilton’s race at the Hungaroring was badly compromised by his poor start, as he pushed too hard in a bid to make up places and went off at the chicane, dropping him to 10th place, a mistake for which he subsequently apologised to his team.

“The formation start was good, the second one wasn’t,” he said, adding that he expected similar from Spa onwards. “I imagine there’s going to be a lot of that. It would have been a different race on Sunday if I’d had a good start but it wasn’t the case and on from that how I reacted was not the correct way, especially when I know better.”

When his team have made a clean getaway this season the results have been almost entirely predictable, with the two Mercedes drivers heading off into the middle distance to fight for the win between themselves, but he acknowledged the spectacle was vastly improved when he and Rosberg were forced to fight other drivers. “It made the race exciting,” he said, referring to the British Grand Prix, adding that fans could expect more. “What goes on from after this race is going to be very interesting. I think they might underestimate how much they influence the races. The starts might not change or they might be disastrous. It could make more weaving, who knows?

“They might need to make changes to it. My guess is that it is not going to be the right thing and it is going to be adjusted. It is a good idea, though.”

Paddy Lowe, the team’s technical director, believes the problem with Hamilton’s car in Hungary was an overheating clutch caused by the field having to take a second formation lap after Felipe Massa had placed his car short on the grid. Rosberg had merely suffered from a lack of grip off the line, Lowe added.

But Mercedes, who before Hungary were in a position to make F1 history by becoming the first team to finish with two drivers on the podium for 10 consecutive races, are understandably taking the matter very seriously.

“I am very concerned,” said the team’s head of motorsport, Toto Wolff. “Maybe it will be better for us in Belgium. We got jumped by two Williams last time and jumped by two Ferraris this time. This was what triggered the whole mess and the first-lap incident. We need to get on top of the situation. It is not acceptable and needs to be analysed why it happens. If you look at it, it is not good.”

Wolff was no closer to offering a concrete explanation as to why the problems were occurring. “It is very difficult,” he said. “There are various issues. It is very difficult to get the calibration right. We had at least two very good practice starts off the line and yet for the actual start we had too much wheelspin and then you get overtaken in a way you cannot recover.”

Rosberg, who has been comprehensively outpaced by Hamilton this season and trails him by 21 points in the drivers’ world championship, has welcomed the changes and the new opportunity to compete with his team-mate. “There will be more variables and it will be more difficult to predict,” he said. “I like it because it gives me the opportunity to try and beat Lewis in that area. Until now it’s been difficult because it was not really in the driver’s hands.”

It may yet prove a tipping point in the title race. Both drivers will face a sterner challenge if they are beaten off the start line, while it could also influence the battle between the pair as Mercedes allow the driver who is leading to determine pit strategy. Certainly Hamilton believed a clean start would have nullified the Ferrari threat in Hungary. “They’ve been quick but I think we had the pace on them all weekend,” he said after the race. “I will see what the results say. If we had been in the lead we would have been a long way ahead.”

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Giles Richards, for The Guardian on Monday 27th July 2015 22.00 Europe/London

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