Damon Hill Uncovers Misleading Theory on Mercedes F1 Struggles

Damon Hill suspects that Mercedes is facing challenges in maximizing the performance of their W15 due to a discrepancy between their simulation tools and real-world outcomes.

Despite Mercedes’ decision to introduce a significantly different W15 for the 2024 season, acknowledging that their initial concept from 2022 was flawed, the team has yet to demonstrate a marked improvement in competitiveness.

During a discussion on the F1 Nation podcast, Damon Hill, the 1996 F1 World Champion, raised concerns about Mercedes’ struggles to contend at the forefront of the competition. This comes after a difficult Australian Grand Prix weekend where the team failed to secure any points.

Lewis Hamilton and George Russell, both poised to score points, encountered setbacks; Hamilton retired early due to an engine failure, while Russell crashed out late in the race amid contentious driving from Fernando Alonso as they vied for sixth place.

Toto Wolff, Mercedes’ team principal, has acknowledged the team’s efforts to optimize the W15 setup. Despite data indicating the car’s potential and occasional flashes of speed on the track, Mercedes is grappling with the challenge of translating this potential into consistent performance.

Hill referenced Wolff’s admission, recalling his statement that the team is puzzled about the optimal setup for the W15. He added, “Before Melbourne, I think he was saying they haven’t taken a stupid pill or something like that,” suggesting that Mercedes is facing difficulties in progressing rather than regressing.

“He’s actually sort of saying, ‘Well, if anyone’s got any good ideas, then come and talk to me!’

“I mean, that’s the state of play there at Mercedes, isn’t it?

“They are missing a trick, they’ve been given three goals at this and they still haven’t quite worked something out. The car looks brutal to drive, it looks always on the edge.

“When they try and get performance out of it, it gets very bouncy and very harsh.

“There’s something they’re not quite getting. But, as Toto said himself, ‘I can’t fire myself, I’m part owner of the team’.

“So he understands the situation. But it is sticky there because Lewis has decided to get out of there and take his chances elsewhere, it’s not exactly a huge vote of confidence in the direction of travel for Mercedes.”

Wolff and Mercedes’ technical director, James Allison, have hinted at potential correlation issues between their simulation data and on-track performance. Hill expressed suspicion that the data collected during experiments might be misleading the team in terms of car setup.

“I’ve started to think they’ve got something disconnected here because they keep coming out with optimistic statements about their car,” Hill remarked.

“They believe they’re going in the right direction and, when the car gets on the track, it doesn’t work.

“The likelihood is, and I’m not an engineer – I’m an ex-racing driver – these things influence these race teams and the development of cars, particularly now that they have so much restriction on testing and actual running of the car at a track.

“So they’re limited in doing real-life experiments. They have to do it using simulators. They have to use computer fluid dynamics. So this computer is totally simulated, then they have wind tunnels but what they talk about is correlation.

“Is the information they’re getting at the factory in their experiments, actually misleading them?  There’s something missing in the calculation when it comes to reality, something goes wrong.

“I think, if [Allison] is saying that, then that just reassures me that my hunch was also right. If they start working on that, I think they’re gonna find something because this is so important to be able to do the theory.

“And then the practical experiment works and follows it up because, so far, it hasn’t been at all. The design team has been telling Toto, ‘This is great, this is gonna work’. And then it doesn’t.”

Tom Clarkson, the host of the podcast, suggested that the persistent problem with correlation could be a significant factor in Hamilton’s decision to make a fresh start in 2025, opting to join Ferrari.

“The question now is how do they sort out the problems with their simulation tools and how big a job is that?” Clarkson pondered.

“Maybe that’s why Lewis Hamilton decided to leave because he thought ‘Hang on a minute, the project to get Mercedes back to the front is even longer-term perhaps than we initially thought’,  because of the renewal of all the infrastructure back in Brackley.

“Maybe he lost patience. I guess also that the start of this season that Lewis is having, it’s the worst start to a season that he’s ever had – even worse than 2009 when he didn’t win a race at McLaren until the Hungarian Grand Prix in the middle of the season.”