13th place in qualifying, 14th place in the sprint, 13th place in the race: the weekend in Imola is a low point for the Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton. Consequently depressed, the Mercedes driver says goodbye to his big goal for 2022 and remains confident.
The large-scale display on lap 39 has already made it clear how unhappy things are for Lewis Hamilton right now. At this point, the international Formula 1 directors have decided to show the gap between the world record champion on Mercedes and Max Verstappen, the reigning champion. After all, the cars of the two exceptional drivers were close to the Enzo and Dino Ferrari circuit in Imola. Only because Verstappen was already preparing to round Hamilton after about two thirds of the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix.
He was over 77 seconds behind, with lap times of around 80 seconds. Shortly thereafter, the marshals waved blue flags for the British: please give in and let a faster car pass. The humiliation followed on lap 41, when Hamilton visibly raised the accelerator on the starting straight to pass Verstappen the exceptional man of the three days in Imola. While he himself ultimately finished 13th and summed up his impressions of the fourth race weekend of the season: “I have nothing to do with the World Championship this year, that’s for sure.”
1. Charles Leclerc – Ferrari – 86 Punkte
2. Max Verstappen – Red Bull – 59
3. Sergio Perez – Red Bull – 54
4. George Russell – Mercedes – 49
5. Carlos Sainz – Ferrari – 38
6. Lando Norris – McLaren – 35
7. Lewis Hamilton – Mercedes – 28
8. Valtteri Bottas – Alfa Romeo – 24
14. Sebastian Vettel – Aston Martin – 4
19. Mick Schumacher – Haas – 0
20. Nico Hulkenberg – Aston Martin – 0
Although Hamilton only formulated what the interested public and almost certainly himself had known for a long time: it must have been a painful admission. It’s not at all up for debate, the 37-year-old said, that he could still pose a threat to world championship leader Charles Leclerc. The Grand Prix on the traditional 4,909-kilometer circuit in northern Italy revealed this once again without stopping. Team boss Toto Wolff even asked his driver to apologize on the radio, describing the Mercedes as “not drivable” and the race as “terrible”.
The problem can only be solved on the track
There are no internal faults, Wolff said over the weekend in an interview with RTL / ntv. “What there is is ‘Tough Love’, we put our fingers where it hurts. We also analyze without mercy when we have done something wrong,” said the Austrian. A scene where he and Hamilton collided in the Mercedes pits after qualifying is more likely to be an expression of frustration at crashing after years of unique success and eight constructors’ titles in a row. The W13, which has been completely redesigned as part of the rule changes, is currently mediocre at best, the gap from Ferrari and Red Bull is huge.
At Imola, Hamilton once again lacks top speed, in 40 laps he fails to overtake Pierre Gasly with the Alpha Tauri. “A weekend to forget” summed up the seven-time world champion after finding himself at the bottom of the central band with positions 13 (qualifying), 14 (sprint) and 13 (race). No car jumps as noticeably as the Mercedes from the airflow ripping through the underbody – George Russell reported upper body pain in Imola, caused by the hard ups and downs. Wolff also told RTL / ntv that the jump was so violent “that the pilots need an osteopath to put everything back in order.”
There is a lot more than a second left for each lap to the summit – and solving the problem seems complicated. That “is a lot harder to solve than we could have imagined,” Hamilton said. To make matters worse, this fundamental car problem cannot be reproduced in the wind tunnel. All that remains for Mercedes is to go to the race weekends with solutions and test in the training sessions whether the hoped-for improvement will occur. The maximum budget limit introduced last year also means that every investment must be carefully considered, otherwise there will be no funds elsewhere.
“Painful”, but successful?
For Hamilton, this initially means he will share the world record title with Michael Schumacher after this season. In reality, the 37-year-old wanted to achieve his eighth triumph, which statistically would finally make him the most successful driver in the premier class of motorsport. It is the last great record of the former Ferrari hero, which Hamilton had not yet broken. Victories, pole positions, podiums, the Briton is at the top of the table everywhere. His contract with Mercedes runs until 2023 and Hamilton has resolutely thwarted rumors of an early departure.
“Just because it’s not easy at the moment, I don’t throw it all away,” said the Brit, who has celebrated at least one victory in each of his 15 Formula 1 seasons, also a record. The fact that he remains unsuccessful in his 16th year is not an option for him, despite the possibility of his eighth world title having already been canceled. The scandalous defeat in the 2021 season finale, when Verstappen made it to the last lap of the last race, should still have too strong an impact.
A defeat that Hamilton does not want to let go. The likelihood of the otherwise successful Briton prematurely terminating his contract is correspondingly low. Even if the current situation is “painful” – and the return to the summit will require a lot of effort and a lot of patience.