Formula One’s clampdown on radio communications between engineers and drivers has made the sport more dangerous, triple world champion Lewis Hamilton said on Sunday.
The Mercedes driver, who finished fifth in Azerbaijan’s first grand prix, said he had spent much of the race distracted and wrestling with his car’s engine settings while engineers were powerless to help.
The Briton summed up the situation in one word - “dangerous” - and suggested the rules needed to be reconsidered.
“I am just looking at my steering wheel for a large portion of the lap - all the way down the straight just looking at my wheel,” he said.
“All they can tell me is there is a switch error, so I am looking at every single switch thinking ‘am I being an idiot here? Have I done something wrong?’ I hadn’t.
“I looked time and again at the different switch positions and there was nothing that looked irregular.”
Baku has the longest straight in Formula One, with cars hitting speeds in excess of 370km/h. The track also winds through streets and around the ancient city walls, with scant runoff.
That means settings are changed on the straight, with drivers taking their eyes off the road at the fastest moment.
Mercedes said both Hamilton and teammate Nico Rosberg, the championship leader who won from pole position, experienced a similar issue but unlike Hamilton the German had made a change that caused it.
Both were told about “an issue with the mode”, which Rosberg dealt with by reversing what he had done. Hamilton had not changed anything and so did not know what steps to take.
“The engine switch has 16 positions, and in (each of) those positions there are like (another) 20 positions so I had no idea what the problem was,” he said.
“I tried a few different things but it didn’t resolve it so I put them back to where they were.”
The rules were tightened this year to try to make races more exciting and less predictable by putting the emphasis on driver skills.
“The radio ban, as far as I am aware was supposed to stop driver aids but it wasn’t a driver aid, it was a technical issue,” said Hamilton of a problem that led to animated exchanges with his pit crew.
“Today would have added to the spectacle if I had full power because I would have been more in the race fighting with the guys up ahead ... maybe the rule needs to be looked at again because it is a technical issue.”