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2014

How Mercedes built Lewis the perfect race car

In a season dominated - so far - by one team, one driver has done most of the winning. What makes the Mercedes W05 so ideally suited to Lewis Hamilton's style? F1 Racing investigates

Over the past four seasons, Mercedes have quietly been moving all the pieces into place to dominate F1. The instrument of that domination is the W05, since Spain renamed - deliberately - as the W05 Hybrid. And, thus far, the most artful wielder of that instrument is Lewis Hamilton, albeit by margins of thousandths of second. Tiny margins, yes, but margins that have left his team-mate, Nico Rosberg, increasingly frustrated.

The W05 is, Lewis has said time and again, the best car he's ever driven. So how have Mercedes met the challenges of the new regulations with such great success, while rivals - behind the scenes and sotto voce - are already talking of stopping development of their 2014 cars? And how is it that Lewis, more often than not, can wring those fractions of extra pace from the all-conquering W05, leading inevitably to those equally telling moments in the post-race 'green rooms' where even the millions watching on TV can feel the hushed frisson?

The team didn't set out to favour either driver - and, for now at least, the two of them are allowed to fight it out between them on track. But as the W05 came together, the stars aligned for Lewis, handing him a car perfectly suited to his style. Frustratingly for Mercedes' rivals, this isn't a story where any one element provides the 'magic bullet'. Rather, it's a carefully crafted collection of marginal gains...

Lewis makes himself heard. "Last year I was struggling," says Lewis. "I was really uncomfortable. I like an oversteering car, but it was too oversteery.

"It took all of last season to know what feeling it was giving me. Things were happening and I would think the car was just not underneath me. If you look at that car from the front of the cockpit you can see the steering wheel - it was high. And Nico and Michael [Schumacher] would sit so high their heads were close to the airbox. When I got in it I said, 'This is all wrong.'

"So I sat so low - I was maybe 40-50mm lower than they were - my vision was worse. But then I have moved the steering wheel much lower, the centre of gravity is lower, Nico has followed me and now he sits as low as me. These are the sorts of things I've brought to the team."

Schumacher was one of the greatest exponents of an oversteering car, so it's no surprise his preferences left a legacy. But in an era with less track testing there's less chance for a single driver to steer development. And Mercedes are keen to stress that the W05 was shaped by collaboration.

"Our drivers are so detail-focused that both of them have great influence over the car," says Mercedes' executive director (business) Toto Wolff. "The advantage for Lewis has been that he didn't feel comfortable in last year's car because he had no impact at all [on its design]. He feels in the right place this year, probably because the engineers understand his needs more."

"Michael had a different driving style to me and he wanted different things," says Lewis. "Nico and Michael gelled and went in one direction, then I've come along and my way is slightly different, and I guess we've created a hybrid: Nico's come halfway, I've come halfway, so we now require the same things from the car.

"A key difference for me this year is braking. We did a lot of work on the simulator last year analysing how hard I hit the brake, the pivot position, the master cylinders, different brake materials and really focusing on brake settings. The guys came up with a piece of software that helped me with brake migration [where the front-rear balance changes as the pedal is released]. It takes a while to build those relationships and for the engineers to get to know what I require from a car."

READ THE FULL ARTICLE IN THE JULY 2014 ISSUE