The different rear wing approach that helped Hamilton win

Lewis Hamilton's storming charge to victory in the Formula 1 Portuguese Grand Prix showed again his brilliance at overtaking and tyre management.

The different rear wing approach that helped Hamilton win

The British driver's success at the Algarve circuit was possible thanks to the work Mercedes has had to do to get on top of its early balance issues, plus a different rear wing choice to teammate Valtteri Bottas.

The battle between Mercedes and Red Bull at the front is the closest we have seen in a number of years, as the former recovers from the losses associated with the new tyres and regulations.

Meanwhile, Red Bull has been catapulted into the fray having fixed some of the chassis and aerodynamic issues that plagued it last season, with Honda also fast-tracking its new power unit into 2021.

Red Bull has also continued to turn the screw with yet another fairly large update package on the car in Portugal.

PLUS: The "subtle" Red Bull upgrades that kept it in the Portugal F1 mix

Mercedes, ever since its troubled pre-season test, has worked diligently to iron out its weaknesses and haul itself back towards Red Bull, doing so with only a handful of aerodynamic updates.

The race at Portimao required attention to setup, with the tricky low grip track surface allied to uncertainty over how best to manage the tyres. This put the emphasis firmly on teams to come up with a well-handling car.

Mercedes looked strong from the off, but there was a differentiating factor between the two cars - and Hamilton ended up going down a different route on his downforce levels compared to teammate Bottas.

Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes W12, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12

Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes W12, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

Mercedes has two different rear wing set-ups available to its drivers, which get a run out at free practice sessions to establish which one offers them the performance level each driver is after at that specific track.

The changes might not seem drastic from the outside, but they do offer up subtle differences that allow them to run different downforce levels, whilst offsetting this against the drag penalty and the DRS effect.

The main visual difference between the two arrangements is the single or double pillar arrangement (seen above in the illustration of last year's W11), with both offering different structural and aerodynamic characteristics that are often dictated by the circuit configuration and characteristics.

It is unclear if Mercedes actively opted to split its drivers, given the threat posed by Verstappen, or whether it was a conscious set-up decision by each.

But Hamilton's set-up on the rear wing arrangement, with two pillars, had significantly less wing than the rear wing installed on Bottas' car, which would potentially give the Brit a straightline speed boost but make life a little more difficult in the corners.

 

Photo by: Mercedes W11 rear wing comparison

This seemed to play out between the pair during qualifying, where Hamilton lost out to his team-mate, who had a more stable rear end when it counted most toward the end of the lap.

In playing the long game and thinking of the race, it appears that Hamilton's set-up allowed him to not only strike against his rivals when necessary but also keep his tyres in a more stable operating window during the race.

Bottas' set-up allowed the Finn to get the tyres into the temperature window more easily for qualifying,  but during the race, this can be detrimental to the performance and longevity of the tyre as the bulk temperature of the tyre goes up.

This has an impact on the tread platform, which begins to slide more as a consequence.

Meanwhile, Hamilton, whose car was trimmed out a little more, was driving slightly different lines as a result of his car's configuration, which led to him managing the tyres differently.

This was perhaps the reason why his pace didn't seem as good as Bottas and Verstappen in the opening laps, as they had more downforce on their cars to fire the temperature into the tyres. But they would suffer from the fallout of that later in the first stint.

With the use of DRS, Hamilton could also give the tyres a bit of a breather down the straights.

Although he suffered the pain of being behind in the opening stages, it may have actually helped him manage his tyres and strategy in that opening phase of the race as a consequence.

Hamilton's long game in set-up choice, and his willingness to be patient in working his way to the front, ultimately proved decisive in giving him the tools he needed to come out on top again.

shares
comments

Related video

Red Bull: Perez not used to disturb Hamilton in Portuguese GP

Previous article

Red Bull: Perez not used to disturb Hamilton in Portuguese GP

Next article

Wolff may reconsider Bottas radio messages after pace ‘flatlined’

Wolff may reconsider Bottas radio messages after pace ‘flatlined’
Load comments

About this article

Series Formula 1
Author Matthew Somerfield
How Brabham’s one-hit wonder was boxed into a corner Plus

How Brabham’s one-hit wonder was boxed into a corner

The Brabham BT46B raced once, won once, then vanished – or did it? STUART CODLING reveals the story of the car which was never actually banned…

The changes Barcelona needs to provide a modern-day F1 spectacle Plus

The changes Barcelona needs to provide a modern-day F1 spectacle

Formula 1’s visits to Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya over recent years have been met with familiar criticisms despite tweaks here and there to the track to improve racing. With the 2021 Spanish Grand Prix largely going the same way, proper solutions need to be followed to achieve F1’s wider targets

Formula 1
May 10, 2021
Spanish Grand Prix Driver Ratings Plus

Spanish Grand Prix Driver Ratings

Often described as Formula 1's laboratory, the Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona gave the clearest demonstration yet of the pecking order in 2021. And it's the key discrepancies from that order which illuminate who is excelling, and who needs to hit the reset button

Formula 1
May 10, 2021
How Red Bull’s deja vu set Hamilton on the winning path in Spain Plus

How Red Bull’s deja vu set Hamilton on the winning path in Spain

An aggressive first corner move from Max Verstappen appeared to have set the Red Bull driver on course for victory in the Spanish Grand Prix. But canny strategy from Mercedes - combined with the absence of Red Bull's number two from the lead group - allowed Lewis Hamilton to pull off a demoralising reversal

Formula 1
May 10, 2021
The toe-in-water origins of Lotus’s groundbreaking F1 journey Plus

The toe-in-water origins of Lotus’s groundbreaking F1 journey

In the first part of our history of Lotus, DAMIEN SMITH recalls how Formula 1 wasn’t an immediate priority for team founder Colin Chapman – but once he got a taste for it he just couldn’t stop…

Formula 1
May 9, 2021
How Hamilton’s qualifying record compares to Senna and Schumacher Plus

How Hamilton’s qualifying record compares to Senna and Schumacher

Lewis Hamilton has just become the first driver to record 100 world championship Formula 1 pole positions. Time to revisit a debate we discussed when he reached 150 front row starts in 2020.

Formula 1
May 8, 2021
Why sustainability is being mandated by F1 Plus

Why sustainability is being mandated by F1

Continuing to be socially acceptable as public views shift globally is vitally important to the future of motor racing, says PAT SYMONDS - especially in Formula 1, the championship that represents the technological peak

Formula 1
May 8, 2021
The Barcelona practice times that prove Red Bull's title credentials, and heap pressure on Verstappen Plus

The Barcelona practice times that prove Red Bull's title credentials, and heap pressure on Verstappen

Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes led the way in Friday practice for the 2021 Spanish Grand Prix, but there was one big encouraging sign for Red Bull. The trouble is, it looks like making good on that gain will require its superstar driver to avoid repeating a mistake made today that left him well down the FP2 order

Formula 1
May 7, 2021