Whatever the rights and wrongs of the 2021 Formula 1 season finale in Abu Dhabi, it must have been the most bitter of pills for the 7 times F1 champion to take. Just like for Felipe Massa in 2008, the title was a lap away, Lewis Hamilton had fought back from being behind most of the season – and the BOOM – a safety car and bad decisions from his team stole away the coveted 8th World Title.
That kind of hit to the metal strength it requires to fight for a close championship must have naturally drained Lewis’ psychological reserves.
It may be that the lacklustre Hamilton we are seeing this year is still suffering from this hardest of body blows, but it could also be that Lewis raised his game a la Samson for one last hurrah and the tank is now completely empty.
Hamilton had two tough seasons racing his team mate Nico Rosberg and taking into account the ‘no fault’ points dropped in 2015, Rosberg would have won that title too.
Lewis may well be like a heavyweight boxer who has been competing in the ring for what seems two decades, when finally the punches he has to take just become too much.
Yet to declare Hamilton as ‘has been’ would be too strong a declaration. He is 3-2 up on his team mate Russell in qualifying, and just to put that into perspective, Leclerc is slaughtering Sainz 5-0 as is Lando Norris on his team mate Danny Ric by the same margin.
However, the signs are there that Lewis is not the force writhing the Mercedes AMG F1 team he once was. We are used to him challenging the team over strategy calls – if not over riding them – yet when asked about his thoughts on whether he should pit in Miami following the safety car, Lewis was not his old self. “You tell me man (if we should pit), don’t leave it to me… how should I know?”. Later he chided the team stating, “It’s their call not mine”.
In stark contrast George Russell instructed his engineer to leave him out despite the longest of stints on the same tyres from the start of the race. He even explained live in the race he’d gone this far and the only chance of a good result was if the safety car was deployed.
Clearly Lewis still has his racing instinct and knows how to put one lap qualifying together.
Jacques Villeneuve wrote in his posy Miami column, “Lewis Hamilton is trying not to drown .After many years of winning without competition, it’s hard to wake up and realise it’s not that easy.”
The Canadian F1 champion driver concludes we are seeing a changing off the guard in the Mercedes team, just as Norris is seeing off the older Ricciardo and Ocon to the ageing Alonso.
Lewis has said in no uncertain terms that he will not retire and has another year on his contract with Mercedes, but he has as much to lose as Michael Schumacher did when he couldn’t reign supreme any more.
There are two big race weekends coming back to back at the end of May. Mercedes need Barcelona to check the correlation of the changes they’ve made since testing and Lewis needs to turn the tide against Russell because another two results worse than his team mate on back to back weekends pretty much sees him as number two at Mercedes for the rest of the season.