Hamilton splits Red Bulls before wheel failure (Spanish GP team-by-team)

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

An unexplained failure at the front-left of the car robbed Hamilton of second
An unexplained failure at the front-left of the car robbed Hamilton of second

With two laps to go in Spain McLaren looked on course to increase their lead in the constructors’ championship and have both drivers on top in the drivers’ standings.

But a shock failure on Lewis Hamilton’s car, which still hasn’t been explained, dashed those hopes.

Jenson Button Lewis Hamilton
Qualifying position 5 3
Qualifying time comparison (Q3) 1’20.991 (+0.162) 1’20.829
Race position 5 14
Average race lap 1’27.997 (+0.821) 1’27.176
Laps 66/66 64/66
Pit stops 1 1
Spanish Grand Prix lap times: McLaren
Spanish Grand Prix lap times: McLaren (click to enlarge)

Jenson Button

Having edged Hamilton in Q2 by three tenths of a second it looked like Button was on course to repeat his Shanghai qualifying performance. But he didn’t – lining up fifth in front of Michael Schumacher.

Surprisingly, the team waited two laps to respond to Schumacher’s pit stop by bringing Button in, and that may well have cost him the place to the Mercedes driver.

But he was also impeded by a faulty dashboard which meant, among other things, he was struggling to get his gear changes right:

During the opening laps, my dashboard readout stopped working. The team was telling me over the radio to do things on the steering wheel but I couldn?t see if I was doing the right things.

And I couldn?t see the rev lights either: most of the time I was pretty close with my gear changes, but I was hitting the limiter quite a lot, which happens when you?re getting a tow and you?re shifting at different places.

Then I was delayed at the first pitstop: there was a problem with the clutch dragging, so the guys couldn?t get the wheel on, and then I had wheelspin.
Jenson Button

Button treated us to some of the best action of the race, repeatedly trying to pass Schumacher at turn one. While Schumacher carefully blocked the inside line, Button was repeatedly forced to try the outside. And with Felipe Massa in close attendance, Button could afford to risk out-braking himself and taking to the run-off and speed bumps at the corner.

Some – such as Eddie Irvine, who I spoke to on Talksport last night – criticised Button afterwards for bring too timid in his attempts to pass.

To me it looked like a case study in how aerodynamically-sensitive cars make overtaking very difficult. The onboard footage showed how Button couldn’t follow Schumacher closely through the final turn or turn three when he got close to the W01.

Other might blame the Catalunya circuit – but in the GP2 races this weekend several drivers, notably ART’s Sam Bird, were able to pass cars at various places on the track, thanks to their lower-downforce cars.

Compare Jenson Button’s form against his team mate in 2010

Lewis Hamilton

Bridgestone issued a vague statement about the front-left failure that put Lewis Hamilton out of the race with two laps to go:

We are working closely with McLaren to understand what happened to Lewis Hamilton, but initial impressions are that this was not caused by a tyre issue.
Hirohide Hamashima

McLaren are still investigating the problem so it’s not clear whether this was a breakage of something in the wheel or tyre, or something caused by Hamilton’s style of driving. Recent history suggests it could be either.

Hamilton had a similar crash in qualifying at the Nurburgring in 2007, the cause of which was eventually traced back to a faulty wheel gun. In 2008 Heikki Kovalainen, driving a McLaren, crashed in almost identical circumstances during the race at Barcelona after a wheel breakage.

However Hamilton also experienced tyre problems at Istanbul in 2007 and 2008 which were particular to his driving style.

What is clear is that McLaren, who judged their tyre wear very well in the previous race, didn’t see this coming – excessive tyre wear usually manifests itself in a loss of grip rather than instant failure.

The failure was a bitter blow at the end of a weekend where Hamilton led the charge for McLaren. He out-qualified Button and drove away from him in the race.

Though Hamilton was fortunate to get the chance to split the Red Bulls, he seized the opportunity with a brave dive between Vettel and Lucas di Grassi.

He maintained enough of a margin over Vettel to protect his position late in the race, but he was clearly concerned about losing time in traffic – McLaren’s post-race transcript shows he asked for blue flags on several occasions (and mistakenly called out “red flag” once!)

Hamilton set the race’s fastest lap on the 59th tour in response to Fernando Alonso reducing his lead. At the time of his crash on lap 66 he had backed off and seemed to be cruising to a second place in the race – and the championship standings.

Compare Lewis Hamilton’s form against his team mate in 2010

2010 Spanish Grand Prix

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