This happened during the standing restart of the race, which saw Hamilton line up behind Red Bull’s Sergio Perez. Lewis immediately overtook Perez to take P1, but proceeded to go off the track into the runoff area, after his car suffered a lock-up.
It was later revealed this was caused by the Briton accidentally pushing Mercedes’ ‘brake magic’ button, which is used to help drivers generate heat into the brakes during practice laps, the formation lap, or under a Safety Car.
In Mercedes’ Azerbaijan Grand Prix debrief, Mercedes Technology Director Mike Elliott explains happened.
“At the start, at the beginning of the race we are not actually allowed to talk to the drivers,” Elliott said.
“So, we can’t talk them through the settings they need to change. So, as a result of that we try and simplify things as much as we possibly can.
“We try to produce tools the drivers can use, that reduces the workload they have to go through because there is a huge amount for them to do.
“One of the buttons we’ve got, it’s called ‘brake magic’, to be honest, I don’t know why we call it ‘brake magic’, is a button that the drivers can press and that allows them to get heat into the brakes.
“One of the big things it does is it moves the brake balance, so the proportion of the front brake energy to the rear brake energy all the way as far forward as we can get it and that allows us to put heat into the front brakes and therefore heat into the rims and into the tyres.
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“So, Lewis had done all the right things, he got the car to the grid, he switched off the various buttons and settings he needed to switch off, switched on the ones he needed to switch on, it was all set to start the race properly.
“He made a fantastic start, he got himself up alongside Perez and as he and Perez were sort of shuffling position Lewis swerved and in the process of swerving he just clipped the magic button and unfortunately he didn’t feel he had done it.
“So, he had completely no awareness he was going to have a problem. The point he then braked, which was the normal point for him to brake, he was in the position where he got all of the brake balance shifted forward, which put all of the load through the front tyres and as a consequence they locked and from that point there was nothing that he could do than go wide.”
Although Lewis apologized to Mercedes for his ‘mistake’, Elliot says the team is also partly to blame.
“I know speaking to Lewis yesterday that Lewis sort of feels a chunk of blame for that, but the reality is Lewis makes so few mistakes and that’s what really sets him apart from some of the other drivers.
“It’s our duty to try and give him a car where it’s more difficult for him to make mistakes. We need to take our share of that, look at how we can improve that and that’s something we will put in place for the next race.”
Before the race restart Hamilton’s brakes were smoking heavily, so a lot of people assumed this was the cause of the fateful lock-up, but Elliot confirms this was not the case.
“The drivers are trying to get the tyres in the optimal window for the start, they are trying to do lots of other things on that lap to the grid, but in trying to get the tyres to the optimal state what they need to do is to put heat into them.
“On the rears, it is relatively easy, the drivers spin the wheels up and therefore they put surface temperature in that way. On the fronts, the driver will weave, or he will put heat in it from the brakes.
“So, Lewis was trying to maximise the heat he was pushing into the rim from the brakes and that caused them to get hot enough that they smoked.
“It is not an issue at all because as soon as the car gets going and the air flow starts coming through the brake ducts the brakes will then cool down again and that’s completely fine.
“And so that wasn’t the issues that Lewis then had at the first corner, it is completely something different,” concluded Mercedes’ Technology Director.