How Hamilton Lost Baku

How Hamilton Lost Baku
2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Thursday - Steve Etherington

The ‘magic’ braking device that helps generate heat in the front tyres was the cause of Lewis Hamilton’s sensational mishap in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

The ‘magic button’ on the back of his steering wheel turned into black magic when it triggered a massive front-end lock-up during the re-start at Baku.

No-one at Mercedes-Benz is talking about exactly how the ‘magic’ hold was triggered, whether it was left on or somehow accidentally re-deployed, but it was definitely the cause of Hamilton’s fall from a near-certain podium place – perhaps even a win – to a lowly 15th at the chequered flag.

For Hamilton, the reason was obvious as he gifted the win to Sergio Perez and Red Bull.

“When Checo came towards me after the restart, I turned the wheel and flicked a switch which shifts the brake balance and that caused me to lock up,” he said.

“It’s one of the toughest moments I’ve had for a while – one moment we had all the points and the next we had none but for sure, we’ll regroup and come back.”

The ‘moment’ came because Mercedes-AMG has developed a system, just as it did with the the now-banned DAS (Driver Adjustable Steering), to boost tyre temperatures.

The operation of the ‘magic’ button is complicated because of the hybrid systems now in use in F1, which harvest wasted energy from the brakes and turbo to charge on-board batteries for a power boost.

Basically, it shifts extra braking force to the front wheels – through the car’s brake-by-wire system – to generate extra heat that is transferred through to the Pirelli tyres.

The heat build-up was obvious when Hamilton returned for the second start in Baku, when clouds of smoke were coming from the brakes. It was reminiscent of the mishap for the Aston Martin team at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, when the rear brakes on Sebastian Vettel’s car caught fire and he was forced to start from the pitlane.

But operation of the ‘magic button’ is also complicated because of the complexity of the latest Mercedes-AMG steering wheel, which is festooned with buttons including a two-step system to control the braking balance in the car.