Where it is all going wrong for Hamilton after poor start to season

Months after he was a lap away from a record eighth F1 title, Lewis Hamilton is down in SEVENTH… so, where has it gone so wrong? Can he recover? Or is it time to move on to football and fashion?

  • Lewis Hamilton suffered badly on his way to 13th place at the Emilia Romagna GP
  • The Brit is suffering his worst start to a Formula One campaign since 2009
  • Seven-time world champion is already 58 points down on Charles Leclerc
  • Sunday’s race at Imola also saw him lapped by race winner Max Verstappen 

There’s no getting away from it, Lewis Hamilton has made a dreadful start to the Formula One season following another forgettable weekend at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

The seven-time world champion was once again well off the pace on his way to a 13th place finish that saw him suffer the humiliation of being lapped by bitter rival and race winner Max Verstappen.

It leaves him trailing drivers’ standings leader Charles Leclerc by a huge 58 points after just four races and down in seventh place.

It’s his worst opening to a season since 2009, which represents his worst points return after four races, but where is it all going wrong for the Brit? Sportsmail looks at the potential reasons why Hamilton has gone from being one lap away from a record eighth title in December to among the also rans just four months later.

Lewis Hamilton has endured a torrid start to the 2022 Formula One season for Mercedes

The Brit (front) suffered the humiliation of being lapped by Max Verstappen (back) on Sunday

As a caveat, by ‘troubles’ it doesn’t mean Hamilton is not getting on with George Russell and that we are heading for a repeat of the intra-team rivalry the Brit endured with Nico Rosberg.

But there are early signs that Russell, new into the team for this season, is performing above a level Valtteri Bottas did while the Finn was Hamilton’s team-mate for the previous five campaigns.

In the last three races the King’s Lynn born racer has beaten Hamilton to a podium in Australia and comfortably dispatched him in Saudi Arabia, where he finished five places higher in fifth, and again on Sunday when he placed fourth.

So rather than this just being a severe downturn in form for Hamilton perhaps there are grounds to instead be giving huge credit to Russell, who by most accounts has enjoyed an excellent start to his time at Mercedes and could be showing more potential than many of Hamilton’s previous team-mates.

George Russell’s (above) strong start has done little to ease the pressure on Hamilton so far

Lack of motivation

Hamilton had all the motivation he needed over the winter when he was controversially pipped to the world championship on the final lap of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in the most stunning fashion after events played hugely against him as a result of the late safety car procedures at the Yas Marina Circuit.

So imagine sitting on all that energy over the winter ready for a fresh title challenge to finally land that record eighth world championship… only to then get in the car three months later and find it’s not up to scratch.

It’s even worse for Hamilton given he has been heavily involved with every Formula One title battle since 2014.

Going from regular wins and podiums to struggling to even get a point at a grand prix would be brutal enough for any driver to take, let alone one of Hamilton’s calibre.

If he isn’t in a title battle, it is going to be incredibly difficult to dig deep into the well and find top performance levels for minor points among the also-rans. It could be playing heavily into his poor form at the start of the season but only the Brit will know that for sure. 

We are all human and cannot run like robots with 100 per cent efficiency all of the time and Hamilton may just be off his game at the start of the season having had to significantly reduce his hopes and expectations so early in the year, having already admitted he is out of the title running. 

Hamilton was overtaken on the last lap of the 2021 Abu Dhabi GP by Verstappen to lose the title

Focusing on football and outside interests

Hamilton has long teased an early retirement from Formula One with the star having admitted he has a vast scope of interests outside of the sport.

The latest, though, took many people by surprise, just as much as his poor start to the season, after it was revealed he was looking to back a consortium looking to buy Chelsea football club.

Hamilton was revealed to be part of a £2.5bn bid fronted by former British Airways boss Sir Martin Broughton. He is pumping £10million into it, as is his friend Serena Williams.

Never mind the teasing that the Arsenal supporter has already taken for being prepared to plunge millions into one of their key Premier League rivals, how much of his off-track interests are taking his focus away from it?

It’s hard to tell just how much hours Hamilton is putting into his interests away from work – but he has a very good track record of combining them.

During his recent years of dominating the sport, Hamilton was heavily involved in making music as part of his outside interests that also include going to fashion shows and playing a key role in projects to help promote diversity in motorsport. They have done little to stop him racking up the wins and championships.

Right now it’s a difficult argument to make that his poor form is down to a newfound interest in helping to buy Chelsea, considering his professionalism towards Mercedes during his career stands up immaculately. 

Hamilton has a number of interests outside of Formula One, including fashion and music

The seven-time champion is as part of a consortium bid looking to buy Chelsea FC

On the decline

Have we already seen the best of Hamilton? The candle of a race driver’s performance over time tends to burn a little longer than those in other sports – despite the huge fitness requirements in modern times.

Yet, that doesn’t mean they can go on forever and Hamilton is now probably approaching the winter of his F1 career at 37 years old.

Only the greats tend to stick around for much longer and it’s not always certain how it can go. In modern times, Michael Schumacher couldn’t find close to his best form at Mercedes in his 40s following three seasons away from F1, while Kimi Raikkonen’s speed also seemed to slowly ebb away once he hit his late 30s before his low key retirement at 42 last term.

Still, not every driver is the same and while Hamilton doesn’t exactly have many years left at the pinnacle of the sport, he can still take solace from an old rival in Fernando Alonso.

The Spaniard, who will turn 41 this year, has also suffered a poor start to the season but that has been largely due to mechanical issues out of his hands and he has largely either been on pace or quicker than his well respected Alpine team-mate Esteban Ocon.

So while Hamilton’s age-related decline will become inevitable and could have already started, there is no reason why he still can’t compete near the top again and it certainly doesn’t explain the full extent of his rapid downturn in fortunes within just a few months.

Fernando Alonso is still showing excellent speed for Alpine even at the age of 40 years old

Blame Mercedes

Many of Hamilton’s critics claim his achievements are only down to the fine machinery Mercedes have offered him for many years – it’s time to flip the script.

Maybe Hamilton is still driving to a very high standard and that his Mercedes is now holding his talents back.

Team boss Toto Wolff said just as much on Sunday following the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix when he apologised to the seven-time champion over the radio for the team’s lack of competitiveness.

Wolff said: ‘Lewis, hi, sorry for what you have needed to drive today. I know this is undrivable. It’s not what we deserve to score the result so we move from there. This was a terrible race.’ 

There is little doubt that the Mercedes is delivering its worst performance levels since at least 2013 when Hamilton was in his first season with the team.

For the team boss to feel the need to apologise to one of his drivers for finishing 13th indicates that Hamilton is getting largely what he can out of what is appearing to be problematic car. 

Hamilton looks on at his Mercedes that has been plagued by performance issues this term

Team boss Toto Wolff has felt the need to apologise to Hamilton for his car’s performance

Sheer bad luck

It’s so easy to look at Hamilton’s results, especially compared to Russell’s, and just write him off even at this stage of the season. But his poor race days have seen luck largely go against him.

In Saudi Arabia, he recovered from a shock Q1 exit to climb the field and even run in sixth with strong pace behind Russell, only for poor timing of the safety car to hinder his pit-stop strategy and eventually drop him down to tenth.

The safety car again cost him in Melbourne as he produced a strong drive that would have earned him a deserved third place, only to be jumped in the pit-stops by Russell who gained significantly from pitting under a virtual safety car to come out in front of Hamilton. The seven-time champ pressured his team-mate until the end but on the tight Albert Park circuit could not find a clean pass without risk to the team’s overall result.

At Imola, he admittedly performed poorly in qualifying but was slowly making ground at the start of the race when he moved from 14th to 11th before getting stuck behind Lance Stroll. At this stage of the race there was no DRS to deploy and without it many drivers found it difficult to perform an overtake.

But Hamilton’s slow pit-stop out of his control saw him lose heavily to drop back to 14th and by that point he was stuck in a DRS train behind Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon with little chance of passing either.

Granted, Russell still finished fourth but he was aided by a good start and clean air running (to which he deserves credit for creating and capitalising on). But Hamilton barely had a single clean lap to show his speed and you would still back that the Brit was a lot faster than he was able to show on Sunday and at previous events.

Hamilton could do little to improve his position stuck behind Pierre Gasly at Imola

The verdict 

Hamilton’s numbers this season are damning and having been off the pace of Russell, especially in qualifying, it does seem like the seven-time world champion isn’t driving at his best.

Yet so much has already gone against the 37-year-old on race days, and the results he produces can often be a little out of his control – such as at Imola at the weekend when he was clearly faster than at least a couple of cars he was chasing.

If Mercedes can find the improvements to make the car more competitive, you can fully expect Hamilton to be firing on all cylinders again.

He may be down, but he is very far from out. 

Hamilton may not be at his best, but his early results are an unfair reflection of his ability

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