Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel dominated Formula 1 for years. Will their path lead to the top once again? It isn’t looking great for either multiple F1 champs.
Toto Wolff crawled into Lewis Hamilton’s cockpit via the button in his ear and asked for an apology, while for Sebastian Vettel even a hard-fought eighth place felt “like a victory”. The two Formula 1 top stars have won eleven world championship titles, Hamilton has been at the top of the podium 103 times, Vettel has 53 grand prix victories – but their role after the rule revolution is that of relegated majesties.
“Sorry for the car you had to drive today. It was undriveable,” Mercedes team boss Wolff radioed his star driver on Sunday. Hamilton not only had to digest 13th place at the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix, but also being lapped by his arch-rival Max Verstappen after about two-thirds of the race distance.
Hamilton’s big goal, winning an eighth world championship, is all but written off after four of 23 races. “It’s not about that question at the moment,” said the Englishman: “But we keep working hard and keep hope.”
In regular conditions, Mercedes is sometimes a second off Red Bull and Ferrari on a lap. If qualifying goes wrong in turbulent conditions, as happened in Imola, an improvement in the race is only possible with a bit of luck. This was achieved by Hamilton’s new team-mate George Russell, who finished fourth and beat his famous compatriot for the third race in a row. Such a negative run had last happened to Hamilton at the end of 2017 – but he already had his fourth title in the bag then.
Vettel dictates terms for staying on
“At a certain point they will fix their problems and he will become a factor again, no doubt,” Red Bull team boss Christian Horner said of Hamilton.
But the Mercedes star will need patience, and he intends to have it, even at 37. Looking back to his McLaren from 2009, which was also initially left behind after a rule change, he said: “We managed it then and fought our way back. And I firmly believe that my team can do the same.” Narrowing the gap significantly this year, attacking the front again in Hamilton’s final year under contract in 2023, that could be the plan.
A much-discussed question in Formula 1 is whether Vettel will also still be on the grid next season. The Heppenheim driver’s contract with Aston Martin is coming to an end. On the sidelines of the Imola race, Vettel made his conditions clear: the prospect of victories, or at least podiums, is what drives him.
His team boss Mike Krack affirmed that it would be “foolish” not to want to keep a driver like Vettel. But even from eighth place, the way to the very front is arduous.