Does Lewis Hamilton have the best spying skills on the grid?
Lewis Hamilton is arguably the best driver on the grid, but his roving eye for detail and thirst for perfection has claimed the spotlight. Former Mercedes engineer Philipp Brandle recently hailed the Brit as a 'super-spy' on an Austrian TV show. According to Brandle, Lewis Hamilton has a unique eye for spotting details on the cars of his competitors.
Formula 1 teams spend a large sum of money on spy photographers to capture images of rival teams during tests and race weekends. However, sometimes it takes the keen eye of a driver to carry out their own reconnaissance of rival cars. Drivers are often spotted walking around and taking peeks at other cars in parc ferme, post a qualifying or race session. In recent seasons, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel have been at the forefront of spying on rival cars.
Speaking to ServusTV, Philipp Brandle said Hamilton "looks at everything very closely." Citing an example of the Brit's keen observation skills, Brandle said:
“There was once a moment prior to the podium room where the drivers were having a drink. He [Hamilton] noticed that another racing suit had fewer cables. The point was that you can save weight, because really every detail counts in Formula 1. So he gave us the feedback that the other team had a shorter wiring harness, and a smaller plug. And really everything, how you can somehow save just one gram, is important. He looks at details like that, and that's what we implemented.”
Brandle's quotes don't come as a surprise given the seven-time world champion's distinct technical intellect, hailed by many in the paddock. Hamilton has always had a unique acumen to be a perfectionist when it comes to extracting performance. The Brit is an expert at using all available tools efficiently and providing his team with insightful feedback.
Lewis Hamilton's feedback has aided the team in reducing deficits to rivals and pushing the envelope in terms of performance. In a sport where precision is defined by every tenth of a second, Hamilton's skill for spying and an eye for detail can reap tremendous benefits.
Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel has also been spotted spying on multiple occasions in the past. The German was famously seen spying on Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes at the Russian Grand Prix in 2018. Vettel's hero and seven-time world champion, Michael Schumacher, was also known to study his competitor's tools throughout his career.
Getting an unfettered view of a rival car can be difficult in Formula 1. Teams often use screens in their garages to hide technical details. Mechanics and engineers have limited access to inspect a competitor's car, even on the starting grid, with teams using shields to conceal their parts.
However, in parc ferme, post a qualifying session or race, the cars are exposed. This gives the closest team personnel, the drivers, a chance to showcase their spying skills and view the details which are outside the reach of a camera lens.
Speaking to ServusTV, Mercedes and Aston Martin reserve driver Nico Hulkenberg confirmed the same. The German driver was a TV pundit for the Austrian channel for the season-opener at the Bahrain Grand Prix. During the show, he said:
"You collect information. You look at how things are done on that car and then you pass it on to your people. And of course you hope they can do something with it and make your car faster.”
Despite the advanced technology used in camera lenses, certain details of a Formula 1 car can only be viewed at close range. Given the complexities of modern cars, what better spying tool can be employed other than the drivers themselves? Judging by the words of the former Mercedes engineer, Lewis Hamilton is the ultimate spying machine.