Mercedes' Tyre Problems Are Fixed but Lewis Hamilton Still Won't Win the Title

Fraser Masefield@@fmasefieldContributor IJuly 31, 2013

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 28:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP celebrates after winning the Hungarian Formula One Grand Prix at Hungaroring on July 28, 2013 in Budapest, Hungary.  (Photo by Vladimir Rys/Getty Images)
Vladimir Rys/Getty Images

Following on from his maiden victory for Mercedes at the Hungarian Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton has seemingly launched himself firmly back into title contention.

We’ve known Hamilton has been a stellar qualifier for quite some time, and his four pole positions and a handful of front-row slots prove this. The problem is, his Mercedes W04 chassis has had a horrible tendency to eat rear rubber fast, the fast-wearing Pirelli 2013 tyres graining out of their optimum operating zone faster than the competition.

The result? Hamilton has been sliding back down the field faster than a harpooned hippo on a banana tree, especially in the hotter conditions where the tyres grain even more quickly.

Silverstone changed all of this. Hamilton was leading the race when a spectacular left rear failure scuppered his chances. We don’t know for sure whether he would have won, but when Felipe Massa, Jean-Eric Vergne and Sergio Perez suffered similar catastrophes, Pirelli were forced into a corner and had to strengthen their tyres with a Kevlar-belted compound.

And for Hungary, Pirelli reverted back to its 2012 specification of front-tyre construction whilst keeping with the 2013 rears.

Hamilton was pessimistic on race day with track temperatures soaring into the mid-50s and went as far as saying he’d need a "miracle" to win, according to BBC Sport. But the tyres worked perfectly, and Hamilton, once into the lead off the grid, was able to control the race and pass his rivals after his pit stops like no other time this season.

If we can make the tyres last here, we can do it anywhere I think you could tell I was hungry for it. I was going all out. I needed to get past those people. Usually I get stuck, today I wasn't having it, I was going for every move I had.

There are some clues as to why the new tyre worked better for Mercedes in Hungary.

A Formula One car’s chassis has to work in total harmony with its tyres, and much of the design is carried out with this in mind.

The Mercedes has always had a tendency for a more grippy front end than its rivals, and although this helps with cornering, it places a bigger load on the rear rubber. And when the rear rubber loses grip, the car will slide. This is why Mercedes have been quick over a single qualifying lap but have struggled in race set-up. The only exception to this is at Monaco, where speeds are much slower and overtaking is virtually impossible.

The 2012-spec front tyres introduced for Hungary, however, have a stiffer sidewall that absorbs less cornering force meaning a less grippy front end that is in turn kinder on the rears.

It all gives weight to the argument as to why the tyres contributed to Hamilton’s victory, but whilst Mercedes may have found a cure to its tyre woes, one swallow does not make a summer, and I still think the Englishman remains an outside bet for the title. Here’s why.

1. Horses for courses

You just can’t underestimate how important past success at a circuit is for a driver.

Certain drivers go well at certain circuits purely due to circuit layout and driving style, and it’s no coincidence that Hamilton has now won there on four occasions and leads the list alongside Michael Schumacher.

2. Tyres not the only reason

I mentioned before that teams are constantly tweaking a car’s chassis to make it work in balance and harmony with every other aspect, most importantly the tyres.

Mercedes also came to Hungary with other upgrades focused around the front wing. This may well have played a part on the high downforce Hungaroring circuit, and you can bet your bottom dollar that in the long break between races, other teams will be working hard in their respective factories to make upgrades of their own and evaluate why Mercedes gained in that area.

3. The points gap and the Sebastian Vettel factor

Despite Hamilton’s Hungary success, he still lies a mammoth 48 points behind Sebastian Vettel in the race for the title, and he’s also behind Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso in the standings. We all know what a good front-runner Vettel is, and there will be circuits coming up that will suit Red Bull just as much as Hungary suited Mercedes. The gap is simply too big to bridge.

So whilst Mercedes may have given Hamilton a better chance of race wins in the second half of the season, it’s hard to see it being a decisive turning point as far as the title battle is concerned. It’s a shame we have to wait three weeks until the next instalment!


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