Following a test in Paul Ricard where Hamilton was conspicuous by his absence, the upgraded W13 arrived in the paddock for the Spanish GP to great expectations. The aero differences were visible and the drivers buoyant about the much improved car after the practice sessions. Porpoising was significantly reduced and the car returned to the kind of performance in qualifying that we saw in the season opener in Bahrain – ie the W13 was the third quickest car.
The race saw Lewis Hamilton starting from P6 and despite getting away from the line well, Hamilton found himself in the kind of midfield melee his just isn’t used to. For 8 seasons he has been in the best car, mostly on the front row and off into the distance after turn 1. Further, given the superiority of his Mercedes other drivers would give difference to him when they saw him approaching on track.
Yet this season is proving different for Lewis. He is having to learn or re-learn what it is to battle with several other cars at the start and not receive the preferential treatment from other drivers he once received.
Lap 1 of the Spanish GP saw him battling with several other cars and entering turn 4 he was challenged on the outside by Kevin Magnussen. Their cars touched front wheel to front wheel, Magnussen disappeared off into the gravel and Lewis suffered a puncture.
The stewards deemed neither driver at fault, but after limping back to the pits Hamilton found himself second last and over 50 seconds behind the leaders.
On lap 2 a dejected Hamilton called in over pit radio saying, “I would save this engine guys if I was you. I’m sorry.”
Code for, ‘I’m not going to achieve anything worthwhile today, I want to retire from the race’.
This is lap 2 of a 66 Grand Prix where nobody knows whether due to the heat the race will see cars change their tyres 2,3 or 4 times. This is a huge opportunity for a driver and team who make the strategy calls correctly to storm through the field.
Mercedes rejected Lewis’ suggestion trying to help him be positive by suggesting he could achieve at least a P8 if not better.
The rest is history. Hamiltons forced change of strategy due to the puncture saw him find plenty of free air on new tyres taking advantage of other cars pitting as he approached them. In the closing stages Lewis had miraculously made it to P4 before a critical engine temperature saw him coast the last lap and lose a place to Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz.
The Sky Sports pundits debated following the chequered flag how Lewis was ready to throw the towel in so easily and Damon Hill whimsically said, “Welcome to the Lewis Hamilton emotional rollercoaster”.
Following the chequered flag Toto Wolff and Lewis engineer were gushing over Hamilton’s performance and appeared to be trying to bolster the fragile confidence of their 6 time champion driver along with managing his emotional deficiencies.
Quite simply Hamilton needs to learn he has no right to space and whilst it was no fault of his that he and KMag collided he would be better advised to treat others around him with more caution. Had he even yielded to Magnussen his net position would have been better than the end result of a puncture.
Lewis is no longer in the fastest car but a Grand Prix is a long event. Picking his fights is something Lewis is not used to, but should learn quickly unless he repeatedly wants to find himself out of position.
And the perceived petulant attitude of threatening to retire the car because things are not going his way is in stark contrast to other more gracious world champions on the grid who do not have a Mercedes F1 car under their control and finished the race behind Hamilton.