FROM THE ENVIENT TO BAKU. Spells fail sometimes, as Lewis Hamilton personally verified in that two-lap mini-Grand Prix that closed the weekend in Azerbaijan. The seven-time world champion pressed the “magic button” (the definition is his) at the wrong time. He was convinced – wrongly – that he had disconnected it or perhaps he simply reactivated it without realizing it. He realized it himself when he pressed the brakes at the first corner and went straight to the escape route ».
To stick to the fairytale image, it is as if Aladdin had rubbed the lamp one too many times and the genius had gone, or the fairy had turned the carriage into a pumpkin before the stroke of midnight. However you turn it around, the finish is bitter.
“Did I leave the magic button turned on?” Yet I could have sworn I had turned it off ». In radio communications Hamilton is desperate. From the way his Mercedes (not) braked he immediately understood what had happened. “You touched it and it slid in,” the box replies via radio in the tone that engineers have when they have to discuss with riders who are over-revving: calm, reassuring, consoling. But Lewis is inconsolable because with that mistake he played the game, the primacy and perhaps the title (we’ll find out in December, for sure the head-to-head with Verstappen will be decided by a few points).
The next day, various descriptions of the so-called “magic button” mechanism circulated. This is an adjustment controlled by the driver which has in particular the function of warming the tires and front brakes before the start or under the safety car. To achieve this, 90 percent of the braking is shifted to the front, compared to 55-60 percent in race conditions. That Hamilton’s brakes were overheated was seen in the seconds before the engines were switched off: thick smoke rose from the wheels of Mercedes number 44. Another detail: Hamilton doesn’t usually zigzag to warm up the tires like other cars do when the race is neutralized: he doesn’t need it. The finale is news: Hamilton attacks Perez at the first corner, but his front brakes are blocked and forced him to take the escape route. Perez goes on to win with Red Bull ahead of Vettel (Aston Martin), Gasly (AlphaTauri) and Leclerc (Ferrari). Hamilton went from an easy second place that would launch him at the head of the World Championship (Verstappen had crashed with four laps to go) to zero in the standings.
There remains one consideration: how many other spells do the other forty commands hide between throttles, levers and buttons that a pilot has to handle at three hundred kilometers an hour? All very fascinating from a technological point of view. But why not organize occasionally some races in which the current steering wheel is romantically replaced by the old-fashioned one that has only one steering function (and let’s also change gear)? Engineers could only give one piece of advice before you go: go and make do.