Mercedes technical director Mike Elliot has revealed the reason behind Lewis Hamilton’s sudden embrace of simulators during the extremely tight 2021 season. The improved nature of modern simulators, especially in the last few years, reportedly made Hamilton take them seriously.
Speaking in a post-season interview with Autosport, Elliot said:
“As those tools get better and better and they get to be a closer and closer match to reality, they become more and more useful to the drivers. They stop seeing them as a toy at the worst end of it, to something that’s a genuine engineering tool that they can use to get a head start for the race weekend.”
Elliot believes Hamilton’s reluctance to work with simulators was not a question of commitment or hard work, but rather the latter felt that they didn’t provide anything useful, especially compared to testing a real car. He further said:
“The commitment has always been there. It’s more a case of saying, now I’ve got something that’s useful to me, I can make use of, I’m going to really push it. I think a combination of the improvements we’ve made to that and the sort of the tightness of the championship meant that both drivers pushed to spend more and more time in there.”
Modern F1 simulators have come a long way in terms of feedback and accuracy, compared to ones from a decade ago. As regulations surrounding real-world testing get more and more restrictive, teams and drivers have increasingly turned to these valuable tools to gain and maintain their competitive edge.
The reason Lewis Hamilton was skeptical of simulators
Throughout his career in F1, Lewis Hamilton has been vocally reluctant to use simulators as a tool to aid his on-track performances, believing them to be inaccurate and useless.
As recently as the 2020 season, Hamilton was against doing simulator work himself and usually left it to the team’s reserve drivers to handle. During an interview with Autosport after winning his seventh world title, the British driver said:
“You can go and do a sim day, and the sim is not in the right place it’s supposed to be. The grip level’s not right, or the wind effect is not right, or the thermal deg is set wrong. So, you can come away with bogus numbers. You have to be so careful with the data that you are receiving and the decisions that you’re making.”
Despite his feelings, the 2021 title battle nevertheless forced Lewis Hamilton to work on the simulator. The margin between Red Bull and Mercedes was practically non-existent during last season’s intense title battle, and as Hamilton sought a competitive edge, the simulator turned out to be increasingly valuable.
During the early part of the season, the team struggled to set up the rear-limited W12. Hamilton’s efforts in the simulator, developing setups and fixing problems, helped them remain in championship contention until the team could bring an upgrade at the British Grand Prix.