Lewis Hamilton left off-balance by W06 as he loses Spain pole duel
World champion has struggled for rear-end grip throughout the Barcelona weekend; Now hoping for razor-sharp reactions at the lights on Sunday to lead Nico Rosberg into Turn One
By James Galloway in Barcelona
Last Updated: 12/05/15 2:04pm
Lewis Hamilton is banking on superior reaction times at the lights in Sunday’s Spanish GP to get an immediate jump on Nico Rosberg after his "unbalanced" Mercedes was beaten to pole for the first time in 2015.
Chasing a fifth consecutive pole for the first time in his F1 career, Hamilton fell short on Saturday as he was outpaced by his team-mate in both Q2 and then Q3, with his final deficit to pole nearly three-tenths of a second.
Despite setting the pace on Friday, Hamilton made it clear that he was not happy with the handling of his W06 around the Circuit de Catalunya with warm temperatures and gusty winds creating set-up difficulties throughout the field.
After having had to settle for second place in qualifying, Hamilton admitted he hadn’t yet hit the sweet spot with his car.
“I’ve been tweaking it through the weekend, but didn’t really like the balance in the end. I did the best I could with it,” he told reporters. “It’s more rear end [of the car]. I was just sitting with my engineer and looking at the data and sometimes it’s understeer and sometimes it’s oversteer. But sometimes understeer does lead to oversteer!
“I didn’t really have any problems with the front-end, I just couldn’t really lean on the rear as it was moving a lot. Naturally, with that you move the mechanical balance forwards, but then you have understeer! So it’s a real fine line.
“It’s been the same all weekend and I’ve been chasing it.”
With Hamilton having led from the front at all four grands prix so far this season, he therefore faces the unusual prospect of following his team-mate in the opening stages of Sunday’s race.
While some circuits – principally Monaco – are both narrower and twister than the Circuit de Catalunya, the Barcelona track is infamous for producing few overtaking opportunities, with the polesitter having won the race 75 per cent of the time.
While the run to Turn One is longer than most, Hamilton says overtaking Rosberg before the first corner still won’t be easy and he therefore may just have to focus on having the sharpest reaction times possible when the five red lights go out at the start.
“It helps [the long straight], but it’s not easy. Even if you don’t get a good start and get in the slipstream, the inside is generally blocked and when the car ahead knows that you’re not going to go for the inside he’s comfortable and able to move out to get himself a good run into Turn One,” Hamilton explained.
“And it’s not very easy to dive down the outside at this circuit – it is for a car further behind because a car will slow down those behind it – so here it is really about getting down the inside off the line.
"We’ve both got the exact same clutches, so naturally we should have the same start.
“If I’m fresher tomorrow and have slightly better reaction time, it might make a difference by Turn One. So that’ll be a goal.”
Should Hamilton not repeat his feats from Bahrain and Abu Dhabi last season and beat the polesitting Rosberg to the first corner, then the 30-year-old confirmed that he would have the chance to run an alternative tyre strategy from the first pitstop onwards.
“The policy is the same as it was last year. We are allowed to race,” Hamilton said.
“The guy who’s in the lead gets the optimum strategy and the guy who’s behind gets a slightly different one. So it’s down to you to utilise it and make up for the disadvantage of being behind."
Hamilton heads into Sunday's race with a 27-point championship lead over Rosberg.