Year Hamilton says he had a (slightly) worse car than 2022

“There are people who look up and say I’ve never had a bad car, and I can assure you I have,” says Lewis Hamilton.

“The 2009 car was very, very far away, the worst car I have ever had. This car is not far from that experience at the moment. ”

Hamilton’s comparison of the McLaren MP4-24 he raced in the first half of 2009 with the Mercedes W13 is, if nothing else, an insult to his 2022 car given how uncompetitive the first half of his season was 13 years ago.

That McLaren’s problems are often forgotten given the team’s dramatic recovery, with Hamilton winning in Hungary and Singapore that year, losing a sure victory in Abu Dhabi due to brake problems and winning four pole positions in the last seven races.

He finished the season well, but was not a competitive car for most of the first half of the season – something that a look at the championship standings does not reveal.

In 2008, Hamilton won his first World Cup, and McLaren missed the Ferrari design crown. But the introduction of ‘lean’ aviation regulations in 2009 derailed him.

“It was a whole new era of cars and I remember coming back to the team and the head of aerodynamics in January who said‘ we’ve already hit our target, ’” Hamilton says.

“The new rules said we would have 50% less thrust in 2009, so they designed the car to have 50% less thrust. I remember they said in February that we had already hit our target, and I remember they told me ‘it doesn’t sound good’. But I had no experience then.

“We came to the first test and realized that others have almost the same pressure force as last year, and we were like ‘oh, shoot, we have work to do to get it back.’ The ultimate key to that was the double diffuser. ”

Hamilton himself will admit that he is not exactly a historian, even when it comes to his own extraordinary past in F1. Therefore, it is important to put a little skin on the bones of his abstract, which is basically correct in character, although less detailed.

The 2009 regulations are the result of the work of the Overtaking Working Group (OWG), formed in early 2007. Each team invested about $ 50,000 to support research to improve the car’s ability to overtake.

The word ‘racing’ was not used in F1 circles at the time, but the goal was essentially identical to that of the 2022 regulations.

The OWG consisted of Charlie Whiting, Ferrari’s Rory Byrne, Renault’s Pat Symonds and McLaren’s Paddy Lowe. They were the first to investigate the loss of performance when properly tracking another car, putting it at 20-30% thrust in faster corners.

The result was known – to reduce the thrust, and thus the turbulence that occurred, with new regulations that halved the thrust. The cars were of poor proportions, with a wide front wing, a narrower, higher rear wing and a reduced diffuser size – as well as eliminating various displacements, blades and aero details.

Formula 1 Grand Prix, Italy, training on Friday

Hence the 50% figure Hamilton cites, even though everyone involved knew it wasn’t the real goal of the thrust force because re-optimization would grab significant parts of that back.

McLaren was optimistic about his car at the presentation, all the way to the point where he realized that not only is he not up front, but he is in danger of being right behind at the start of the season. The team calculated that his deficit was in the region of three seconds in the three test.

One significant difference between the 2009 McLaren and the 2022 Mercedes is that the former at least worked as expected. Despite some minor problems in this area, it correlated well with the simulations and produced close to the expected thrust. But Hamilton is right that the team’s goals were far from that.

Ross Brawn, then director of the Honda team, warned rival teams in early 2008 that the thrust force produced by cars under the new rules would be significantly higher than expected. But most, including McLaren’s engineering director Paddy Lowe, rightly felt that Brawn and Honda were either lying as part of a political game, or were mistaken. After all, Honda was terribly uncompetitive in 2007-08.

Hamilton is right that the double diffuser played a role in that. The key to this was not the architecture of the diffuser itself, but finding the necessary airflow to power it. Regulations were supposed to determine that it was under one, watertight part, but Brawn, Williams, and Toyota clung to a harsh semantic interpretation of the text of the regulations to circumvent that.

Jenson Button Brawn Lewis Hamilton McLaren Sebastian Vettel Red Bull F1

The rules stated that the transition between the reference and stepping planes – formerly 250 mm on both sides of the reference plane and later 50 mm higher – must be “firm, hard and impenetrable”. But the interpretation allowed multiple transitions with gaps between them through which air flow could be brought.

McLaren missed this, but so did most of the team. Red Bull, for example, considered a double diffuser, but rejected the idea because Adrian Newey, with some justification, felt the rules did not allow it. But after a political battle, the double diffuser was declared legal.

Still, McLaren also stood behind its single-diffuser rivals, and another oversight was pushing inwash end plates at a time when outwash was becoming di rigeur. It may not be a coincidence that all three teams with representatives in the OWG were boxed into concepts that were largely in line with regulations – but not the exact text. It paid off to tackle the rules without the luggage in the OWG he brought with him.

McLaren was in trouble, so he took an extremely aggressive approach and threw parts at cars in the early races. This was not in the hope that the MP4-24 would immediately turn into a winning car, but simply to achieve respectability. At the time, it was still unusual to bring new parts to every race, but McLaren couldn’t afford to wait and his changes brought some useful gains.

Both McLaren drivers escaped Q1 in Australia, only – with Heikki Kovalainen in 13th place, 1,178 with less than pace and Hamilton in 15th place. Hamilton’s penalty in the five-seat gearbox meant he was destined to start from the back, with Kovalainen 14th and slowest in Q2 – within a second of the pace.

This was something of a lifeline for McLaren, with Hamilton passing and finishing third on the road. He was later disqualified for controversy over lying to stewards about the circumstances in which Toyota driver Jarno Trulli was missed.

Formula 1 Grand Prix, Malaysia, Sunday race

In Malaysia (above), Hamilton was 13th in qualifying, 1,121 with less, and finished seventh. In China, Hamilton qualified ninth, 2,411 seconds less, and Kovalainen finished fifth ahead of his team-mate in the race.

By the fourth race of the season in Bahrain, Hamilton had qualified fifth, 0.765 seconds behind and finished fourth – even outscoring Jenson Button, then during an early season dominance that would have brought the championship early, thanks to a KERS kick to the start. Inevitably, he didn’t stay there long.

But that early trajectory misrepresented the speed of McLaren’s recovery. Bahrain has given priority to the car’s advantages, and these are slow bends that solved some of the early mechanical problems that led to the car being occasionally driven on three wheels during testing thanks to how rigid it was.

Formula 1 Grand Prix, Spain, training on Friday

The weight was also a concern. This was the first year of KERS and the Mercedes system, unlike some of its rivals, was ready to go. But it had a lack of weight and although McLaren soon dropped to the minimum weight, it took some time before he could start the ballast needed to fine-tune the weight distribution.

That’s part of the reason why simply putting his version of the dual diffuser on the car for race five in Spain (above) hasn’t transformed McLaren. The car was at its best on slower tracks, but fast tracks dependent on an aircraft like Barcelona showed its weaknesses. Kovalainen was eliminated in Q1, and Hamilton was only 14th online and ninth in the race.

In Monaco, the car was stronger with Kovalainen, who placed seventh in the qualifiers after Hamilton jumped on the Mirabeau in the first quarter. No driver scored, with Kovalainen crashing into the Swimming Pool and Hamilton in 12th place.

Formula 1 Grand Prix, Monaco, Sunday race

In Turkey, it was hard to avoid Q1, and Hamilton failed to do so, and Kovalainen was 14th and both cars ended up out of points.

Adjustments were still coming, but McLaren was still fiddling around the edges of his fundamental limitation in aerodynamics. Then came the raid at Silverstone.

Kovalainen entered Q1, but the lack of pace of 1.580% from the front was the biggest in the McLaren season. Again, there were no points, but Hamilton raised the crowd to its feet when he passed Fernando Alonso, who is now driving for his Renault colleague – for 16th place.

McLaren had 15.5 points and was sixth in the construction championship. The season seemed to be going from bad to worse.

Formula 1 Grand Prix, Germany, Sunday race

Hamilton then set the fastest weekend time and qualified fifth at the Nurburgring – finishing in 18th place after suffering a stab wound at the start after contact with Red Bull’s Mark Webber – after which he won the Hungaroring from fourth place two weeks later – taking first victory in Grand Prix races for a car with a hybrid element. So what has changed?

Although both the Nurburgring and Hungaroring were better adapted to the car’s advantages in slower corners, McLaren’s performance was significantly stronger. This was thanks to the introduction of a new front wing, floor, side girders with modified inlets and radiator openings, bonnet and wider diffuser.

It was all about improving the airflow in the rear of the car, with a key switch for flushing the front fender end plates and reducing the size of the radiator inlets, at the expense of extended outlets, and other changes that improve airflow to the rear. car.

This is another area where KERS has caused some problems with regard to packaging requirements, with batteries located under the radiator in the side pads. McLaren finished his recovery in twice the time and was really at work.

In Hungary, KERS has also unquestionably demonstrated its value as it played a key role in Hamilton’s key addition to Webber. Once the initial shortcomings of weight and packaging were resolved, it was a valuable weapon.

Hamilton no longer had a bad car. With two wins, he has won three more podiums in the last eight races of the season to climb to fourth place in the World Championships.

But that first half of the year, throwing away a car that was often food to eliminate Q1, remains in his memory as the hardest he had in F1.

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