With two races of the F1 season remaining, Lewis Hamilton finds himself in the unusual position of having fewer pole positions than his team mate.
Ferrari’s recent advances mean that Charles Leclerc is the pole position king of 2019, with seven. Team mate Sebastian Vettel has just two. But, over at Mercedes, Valteri Bottas’s pole in Austin moved him 5-4 ahead of Hamilton.
Considering Hamilton’s career records, that is no mean feat. The six-times champion has 87 F1 poles to his name. That’s 19 more than the late Ayrton Senna, renowned as perhaps the best qualifier of all time.
In 2017, Hamilton scored 11 poles to Bottas’s four. In 2018 it was a similar story, the score 11-2. So 2019 has seen a significant shift. And Hamilton, almost unthinkably, has pin-pointed his qualifying a weakness.
Sometimes, it’s a matter of set-up. Optimising a car to look after its tyres over a race distance at the expense of single-lap speed. Usually, both bases can be covered. But after qualifying only fifth in America, Hamilton was left scratching his head.
Sometimes though, things aren’t straightforward, as Mercedes strategy director James Vowles explained...
SOUNDBITE: (English) JAMES VOWLES
F1 STRATEGY DIRECTOR, MERCEDES:
“During the course of the lap, underneath his right hand, there was a little rotary and that rotary adjusts the engine braking. Normally it has a guard on it and what happened is the guard had accidentally been knocked off as he went through the lap. Every time he turned the steering wheel he accidentally changed the engine braking. That caused him to lose performance at the end of the lap. The mechanics spotted it the second the car had come back in. But also, that first run was compromised as a result. Come the second run, you’d have seen everyone went slower. The track in fact, had slowed down slightly — small wind change, small track temperature change. Lewis wasn’t now able to compete at the front, ultimately sealing his position as fifth on the grid.”