What Is the Mercedes Magic Button? And How Did it Lose Lewis Hamilton the 2021 Azerbaijan Grand Prix?

After a dramatic weekend at the 2021 Formula 1 Azerbaijan Grand Prix, we learned that Lewis Hamilton’s dramatic tire lockup on corner one of the restart was due to something called the “Magic Button.” What is this magic button, and what does it do? How could something so seemingly useful cause Lewis Hamilton to throw away what could well have been a pole position in the Formula 1 Driver’s Championship? These F1 cars are home to many hidden features and secrets.

Lewis Hamilton Azerbajain Grand Prix locking up his front brakes by hitting the magic button
Lewis Hamilton Azerbaijan Grand Prix | F1

Lewis Hamilton blames magic button for Azerbaijan loss 

First of all, what is this “magic button?” According to Motorsports.com, it is something that has been called a couple of names over the years. It is most commonly referred to as the “magic paddle” or “magic button.” 

When F1 changed to hybrid cars in 2014, it required the braking system to get an update as well. There needed to be more electronic assistance for brake balance, given the extra onus on energy recovery via the MGU-K. 

Brakes are the most important part of any racing

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In all forms of racing, brakes are where the real speed comes from. For F1, this is doubly true. In fact, there is a myriad of tools available to F1 drivers to calibrate their car’s brake bias. In earlier F1 days, brake bias was controlled by a lever in the cockpit. These days, as the cars have gotten more complex, so too has the brake bias controls, causing them to move to the steering wheel. 

As far as Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes, there is one dial and two buttons to set brake bias and another rotary dial to control engine braking. And, of course, the magic button. 

What does the magic button do in F1? 

Since the brake settings are complicated and numerous, the magic button serves as an override that sends the brake bias hard to the front. This setting is not very useful in most situations, but it can save a driver’s skin every so often, especially when they need heat in the tires and brakes quickly.

The magic button sends 90 percent of the brake bias to the front axle instead of the more normal 55-60 percent on the front axle. According to Motorsports.com, the magic button also stops the MGU-K from recovering energy. 

So, what happened to Lewis Hamilton on the opening lap at the 2021 Azerbaijan Grand Prix? 

The reports say that Hamilton had engaged the magic button on the formation lap because he wanted to heat his tires before the standing restart caused by Verstappen’s crash. This was one of many clever ideas used by Hamilton to enjoy his status as one of the greatest Formula 1 drivers of all time. 

Lewis Hamilton got back to his grid spot, and the race restarted. The green light hit, and the race re-commenced. When Lewis swerved away from Sergio Perez right before turn one, he accidentally hit the magic button. So, when he went to brake for turn one, his tires locked, and Lewis Hamilton went sailing straight ahead and off track. 

Since this accidental mashing of the magic button caused Hamilton to end the race with zero points, Mercedes is now interested in changing the steering wheel layout. Hopefully, with some tweaks, the Petronas squad can avoid this frustrating situation in the future.