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Formula 1 Australian GP

Explained: The facts behind Hamilton's F1 cockpit complaints

In Australia Lewis Hamilton revealed the Mercedes W14's too far forward cockpit position is at the heart of why he doesn't feel as comfortable in his 2023 Formula 1 car as team-mate George Russell. Here's a look into the reasons why that may be the case.

Cockpit comparison

Giorgio Piola's F1 technical analysis

Giorgio Piola is the preeminent Formula 1 technical journalist. Born in Genoa, Italy, Giorgio has covered the F1 World Championship since 1969, producing thousands of illustrations that have been reproduced in the world’s most prestigious motor racing publications.

Mercedes has openly admitted that its 2023 W14 has failed to live up to expectations, prompting a course change on its development programme to recoup some of the performance that it had expected to make up on its rivals this season.

However, it has become clear that the car also harbours some fundamental design flaws that cannot be corrected during the season and will require a more significant overhaul as the team prepares its next challenger. The cockpit position appears to be one of these issues, with Hamilton critical of the approach that the team has taken with the new regulations so far.

"I don't know if people know, but we sit closer to the front wheels than all the other drivers. Our cockpit is too close to the front. When you're driving, you feel like you're sitting on the front wheels, which is one of the worst feelings to feel when you're driving a car," he said.

"What that does is it really changes the attitude of the car and how you perceive its movement. It makes it harder to predict compared to when you're further back and you're sitting closer, more centre. It's just something I really struggle with.

"I listened to the team and that was the direction that they said that we should go. Had I known the feeling that I would have in it, it wouldn't have happened. It has to change for the future. 100%.”

The team has clearly made changes to combat the ill effects that porpoising and bouncing had on its drivers last season. However, the position of the cockpit has not moved, as it would have required even more of an overhaul in terms of the car's layout.

Mercedes W14 middle wing detail

Mercedes W14 middle wing detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

That’s because the decision on where to place the cockpit has a knock-on effect up and down the car, with weight distribution, suspension and aerodynamics all affected in various ways. And, given there’s been so much focus on Mercedes' decision to pursue the ‘zeropod’ concept, perhaps we should start here, as the upper side impact protection structures (SIPS) have been housed within a mid-wing on both the W13 and W14.

Longitudinally the upper SIPS have a 50mm window in which they can be fixed, but that’s also dictated by the position of the cockpit, resulting in the structures having to be placed further rearward if Mercedes had opted to shift the cockpit further back in 2023.

That would also result in changes to the sidepod design and might well have led to the total abandonment of Mercedes' current scheme. Instead, the team made some concessions regarding the sidepod inlet, which has been narrowed, increased in height and pushed back relative to the W13. 

Mercedes W13 and W14 side comparison

Mercedes W13 and W14 side comparison

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The position of the front axle is also a factor in the corresponding feeling that Hamilton gets from the W14, which is a decision that’s driven by regulation and requires the axle to be within a 100mm longitudinal window behind the front bulkhead.  

For comparison, Red Bull’s already more rearward cockpit position not only places its drivers further from the front axle, but it has also created more space in the area beneath the driver, allowing it to take some of the electronics and other ancillaries usually housed within the confines of the sidepods and place them under the chassis instead.  

This has the added benefit of opening up more options in terms of the sidepod’s design, with Red Bull able to increase the size of its undercut compared with some of its rivals.  

Red Bull Racing wheelbase RB18 and RB19 comparison

Red Bull Racing wheelbase RB18 and RB19 comparison

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Notably, while Mercedes hasn’t made changes for 2023, Red Bull has, with a new front suspension arrangement that places the front axle further forward than it was on the RB18.

It’s unclear if this represents a countermeasure to the tyre changes made by Pirelli, which aimed to reduce the understeer that the front tyre generated in 2022, or a general improvement compared with the position the Milton Keynes team favoured on last year’s challenger.

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However, it is clear that it will have a bearing on the behaviour of the car and also alter the aerodynamic relationship that the wake turbulence generated by front wheel assembly has with the front wing, floor and sidepods.  

Cockpit comparison Mercedes W14 and Red Bull RB19

Cockpit comparison Mercedes W14 and Red Bull RB19

Photo by: Camille De Bastiani

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