The whole of Formula 1 currently only has one for Max Verstappen. Which is quite normal given his striking sequence of the moment. Not so long ago, however, it was Lewis Hamilton who imposed his law.
An average of 10 first places per season from 2014 to 2021, or one every two races. A presence on the podium in 80% of the races. Six world championships in between.
However, everything stopped dead. Since his victory in Saudi Arabia in December 2021, he has not won. A scarcity of 30 proofs, unheard of. Not that the Briton has unlearned to drive, since he has been on the podium 12 times. One thing is obvious, however: the king has been uncrowned.
“Is he too old to keep winning?” even recently asked the Washington Post about the 38-year-old runner.
The question of age is quickly brushed aside by his opponents, whose respect for him is obvious. “He’s still a great champion, there’s no doubt about that,” Alpine’s Esteban Ocon spontaneously retorts about his rival. “My perception is the same as two years ago; he is a phenomenal runner, continues Nyck De Vries, of AlphaTauri. It remains the best of the last decade. »
“In his case, it’s really the car” that makes the difference, adds Nico Hülkenberg, of Haas.
The Mercedes that Hamilton drives no longer has the luster of its heyday. After eight consecutive Constructors’ Championships, the German constructor slipped to third place last year and sits in second place after seven races in 2023. A third into the campaign, Red Bull is already virtually out of reach.
“His car is not good enough to win consistently,” confirms Ocon, who makes the same observation for his own team. He also identifies the very high caliber among the drivers, “the highest since [he] arrived in Formula 1”.
If the runners still admire their colleague, De Vries says he understands why the public is wondering. “20 years ago, if you achieved such a unique accomplishment, you were forever recognized. Whereas today, in F1 as elsewhere, it is forgotten the next day. But I know that Lewis, even after all these years, has the same motivation and the same desire to be the best. »
Asked to comment on the situation, Hamilton maintains his usual calm.
“I don’t feel any weight,” he said, in response to a question about those 18 months without first place.
He evokes a “bad patch”, which we understand was concentrated in 2022. At this time, last year, porpoising was the issue of the hour. This undesirable phenomenon, caused by a modification in the aerodynamics of the cars, created violent jolts which shook the single-seaters. The teams did not all adapt to the same speed, and Hamilton, before the Canadian Grand Prix, had complained of back pain. The performance of the Mercedes suffered, and the veteran had not been kind to the car he was driving.
Twelve months later, the tone has changed. He considers himself part of the “best development team” in the industry. After the bad patch, he sees a comeback being organized, driven by a “new energy”. Two weeks ago in Spain he finished second in a race where Mercedes “got a lot of stage wins”. His teammate George Russell, in fact, also reached the podium.
“We know where we’re going. And it’s together that we’re going to get there, “he said, in an obvious rallying cry.
If he does touch up at the top, will it still be at Mercedes? It’s less clear. He is in the final year of his contract, and despite a few meetings with team principal Toto Wolff, he said on Thursday he had “nothing new” to report on the matter. We don’t feel rushed.
This does not change the weekend that awaits him on one of his favorite tracks, where he has signed seven career wins, notably in 2019.
“Does the track particularly suit your style?” asked the interviewer during a press briefing on Thursday. ” It’s clear ! enthused Hamilton.
Rain forecast for Saturday and Sunday could complicate his plans. But if age and a bad patch haven’t exhausted his passion, a downpour won’t.