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Formula 1 Spanish GP

Ben Hunt: Has Lewis Hamilton lost his F1 edge?

Lewis Hamilton’s worst start to a Formula 1 season has raised questions about his future. So what is going on with the seven-time world champion? Has he lost his edge?

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes-AMG F1 Team

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes-AMG F1 Team

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

When Lewis Hamilton spoke to the media following his fourth place in Montreal, he was unequivocal about the performance.

Having missed out on the final spot on the podium to his Mercedes team-mate, George Russell, Hamilton delivered his damning assessment of the weekend.

“Over the weekend, it was a really poor performance from myself”, he said before adding, it was “just one of the worst races I have driven, lots of mistakes”.

Given it had been his best result of the year, his words were at odds with what a lot of people were thinking.

He was upset and his self-criticism comes at a point where he finds himself trailing 8-1 in the inter-team battle with Russell in the qualifying head-to-head, a seemingly unthinkable statistic given his success in the sport.

Then there were his comments in Monaco where he suggested he would not be able to out-qualify Russell at all this year in what was another staggering statement.

He made a further remark about Russell getting the upgrade ahead of him in Monaco, although it later emerged Hamilton had given his full blessing to his team-mate getting the wing first.

George Russell, Mercedes F1 W15

George Russell, Mercedes F1 W15

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

All things considered, as he sits in eighth place in the championship behind Russell and is still without a win since 5 December 2021, it looks as though his final season with Mercedes will fizzle out and conclude without the fanfare it so deserves before he joins Ferrari.
So what has gone wrong?

Has he taken his eye off the ball since agreeing the move to Ferrari?

This is a quick answer to the problem he finds himself in however, those close to him insist it is not the case.

That said, it is impossible to really know just how much signing the deal with Ferrari so early in the year is impacting his performances and emotions.

Could there even be a subliminal aspect? For it is only human nature to shift our focus when we know there is a severance looming.

He is now winless for over 900 days and has admitted his decision to join Ferrari will provide a much-needed boost for his motivation, which may have been depleted after driving a succession of dud Mercedes.

Maybe he is already dreaming of what it will feel like to be challenging for wins again in 2025 and simply wants this year done and dusted?

Is there still a hangover from Abu Dhabi 2021?

The impact of that infamous race and the subsequent paths in opposite directions for Hamilton and Max Verstappen cannot be discounted.

Podium: race winner and 2021 F1 World Drivers Champion Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, second place Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, third place Carlos Sainz Jr., Ferrari

Podium: race winner and 2021 F1 World Drivers Champion Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, second place Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, third place Carlos Sainz Jr., Ferrari

Photo by: Erik Junius

The fact he is not an eight-time world champion must wrangle with Hamilton, who will look to change that at Ferrari.

Again, it would be easy to make a case to say he has not been the same racing driver since Verstappen won the title, for Hamilton has not won a single race since Saudi Arabia in 2021.

Could that be part of the aforementioned demotivation? It seems unlikely but again the move to Ferrari should allow him to exorcise the ghosts from the Yas Marina Circuit, if indeed there are any.

Is the negativity just self-invented heat?

There is no doubt that Hamilton performs well when he is up against it. We have seen his ability in the past to dig deep when the odds are heavily stacked against him.

For instance, pulling himself back into the title race and taking it to the wire in 2021 or even finishing the 2020 British Grand Prix on three wheels!

Could the comments about the front wing in Monaco and the self-criticism in Montreal be a mechanism used to redouble his motivation?

If we look at former NBA star Michael Jordan as an example, his mental fortitude to put himself under pressure, was ultimately the driving force behind his success.

The punctured tyre on the winning car of Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W11, in Parc Ferme

The punctured tyre on the winning car of Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W11, in Parc Ferme

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

By convincing himself that he was up against it propelled him to a new level of performance.

Could Hamilton be working along the same tactic, to make it feel like he has to fight his way out of a corner?

Is he now the outsider in his own team?

Now he’s heading for the exit, has Hamilton been jettisoned by Mercedes?

That’s not the view from inside the team who make it clear that there is no incentive for them to favour one driver over another. After all, its stance has always been team first, driver second.

Mercedes insists its treatment of Hamilton and Russell is equal and that he and his side of the garage are part of all the meetings about this year’s development.

Inevitably though, he will be left out of the discussions for 2025, which means he will be an outsider within his own team for the first time in his F1 career.

Has he just been unlucky?

In part, yes. Helped in no part by Mercedes’ failure to produce a race-winning car, Hamilton has been unlucky.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W15

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W15

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

He’s been on the wrong side of “fine margins” and consequently being beaten by his team-mate - and there is no driver in any series would would be happy about that.

So his frustration is understandable, honest and should be applauded.

"I wouldn't have predicted 8-1,” Mercedes technical director James Allison told the Beyond the Grid podcast when reminded of its drivers' qualifying record.

He added: "Lewis has, not by accident, been the best qualifier in the history of the sport because I think he's been the best driver in the sport, but he's struggling to make it stick this year by fine margins.”

Maybe he has slowed?

Hamilton will turn 40 in January but physically he is in great shape and there is no doubt he still is quick enough according to Ferrari team principal, Fred Vasseur.

Vasseur told the JA on F1 podcast that he was not worried about Hamilton’s age or his performances this season.

He said: “I am really convinced that Lewis will be a performance contributor on every single topic, and the combination with Charles [Leclerc] with be a very good one.

Watch: Life at the Scuderia - Exclusive Interview with Fred Vasseur

“At the end, it is a package, not that just someone is quick. I am sure we need the experience of a championship winner.

“Lewis has won seven championships and comes with huge experience and a huge experience of Mercedes and this is also important for us, because we need to be able to have a transfer of experience from other teams.

"In the past, we have been a bit isolated and that is not the best way to improve.”

When asked if he was convinced Hamilton would remain competitive into his 40s, Vasseur added: “I am more than confident because the difference is the motivation.

“For sure, when you are 40, or if you are not in a positive environment or feel you are in a position to win, it is very difficult to keep the motivation after years and years and years.

“I am really convinced that Lewis wants to be with us and I have no doubt that he will be mega motivated.”

Interestingly, those in the paddock have not questioned whether Hamilton has lost his edge or his fighting spirit.

Press Conference, Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes-AMG F1 Team

Press Conference, Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes-AMG F1 Team

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

Whatever is going on with Hamilton this season, one thing has become clear - that he needs a fresh challenge

And what better way to prove his critics wrong than by winning his record eighth world title with Formula 1’s most iconic team?

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