Lewis Hamilton says he’s never experienced as much pain while driving in Formula 1 as he did during the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, thanks to his Mercedes car’s aggressive bouncing.
All teams have had to deal with either aerodynamic porpoising or their cars bottoming out along Baku’s 1.4-mile straight, but Mercedes suffered most thank to the W13 already being predisposed to the bouncing.
The team clarified during the weekend that in Baku it wasn’t suffering from the same porpoising that afflicted it before the Spanish Grand Prix; instead the car was scraping along the track on the straights because it needs to be run extremely close to the ground to generate performance.
The sound of the scraping was evident from the on-board broadcast microphone and even via team radio, and the Mercedes floor was visibly flexing more dramatically than that of any other car.
It made for a jolting sensation so violent that Hamilton was visibly distressed after the race, and he revealed afterwards that he was suffering serious back pain after a weekend with the bucking W13.
“I’m happy it’s over,” he said. “That was the most painful race I’ve experienced, the toughest race I’ve experienced.
“The worst was at the beginning of the race. It got a bit better in the corners towards the end but down the straights still just as bad.
“There were a lot of moments where I didn’t know if I was going to make it. One, whether I was going to keep the car on track as on the high speed I nearly lost it several times. The battle with the car was intense.
“The thing was bouncing so much there were so many times I was nearly going into the wall. That was a concern safety-wise — 180mph smashing into the wall. I don’t think I’ve ever really had to think about that as a racing driver, keeping it out of the wall at that high speed. Very strange experience.
“I’ve been doing cryotherapy and you go in there for four minutes and it’s bloody cold — same sort of thing, just biting down and just gritting with it.
“I have to think of all the people that rely on me to get those points, so that’s really what I was focused on. But this is definitely the worst for me — haven’t had it this bad this year.”
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Hamilton also revealed that he was dealing with worse bouncing that teammate George Russell thanks to running a novel setup in an attempt to troubleshoot the car’s problems.
“Honestly, George didn’t have the same bounce I had. He had a lot less bouncing. Yesterday I lost 0.35s to him on the straights, I had an experimental part on my car and the different rear suspension. Ultimately it is the wrong one.
“George hasn’t had it as bad today—10 years’ younger back than mine!”
Russell has been the driver most outspoken about the sport needing to address the bouncing, and the Briton doubled down on those calls this weekend, calling for an emergency rule change to eradicate the phenomenon.
With virtually every driver battling the bouncing over the course of the weekend — albeit with less severe cases than the Mercedes drivers — Hamilton hinted that his teammate had been successful in galvanizing a sport-wide response to what has fast transformed from a performance issue to a health one.
“All the drivers together are discussing it in the briefing,” Hamilton said. “Ultimately, none of us wants to have the bouncing for the next four years of the regulation, so I’m sure the teams will be working on it.”