Lewis Hamilton’s Jekyll and Hyde career

Well I think it’s fair to say a lot of people will be scratching their heads about Lewis Hamilton now. After his disastrous performance in Bahrain, Hamilton’s detractors now have plenty of ammunition.

Of course, caution is advised. Just as an amazing first few races didn’t make Hamilton the new Senna automatically, one lacklustre trip to Bahrain doesn’t make him the new Andrea de Cesaris.

But today F1 Wolf has written a fantastic post that outlines the dramatic nature of Lewis Hamilton’s decline since his incredible start to the 2007 season. It deserves a wide audience and I hope F1 Wolf doesn’t mind if I repeat a bit of his analysis here.

Here are the results of Hamilton’s first nine Formula 1 races:
3 – 2 – 2 – 2 – 2 – 1 – 1 – 3 – 3
An unprecedented run of nine consecutive podium finishes from his début onwards.

Here are the results of his last nine F1 races:
5 – 2 – 4 – 1 – DNF – 7 – 1 – 5 – 13
Not quite so impressive, you must agree.*

At the risk of coming across as smug, it is tempting to say that this vindicates the views of people like me who were calling for caution all last season in the midst of the British media’s Hamilton hype. I constantly pointed out, for instance, that Hamilton had not experienced much in the way of bad luck. There are people in the pitlane who can tell you all about how important luck is — Mark Webber springs to mind. You can say that he has now experienced some bad luck, and this is partially reflected in his results. In this sense, his first nine races were a bit of a fluke.

I once read someone say, “Am I the only person who thinks that all Hamilton has ever done is cruise to podium positions in the fastest car?” And I have now noticed a lot of people pointing out that Hamilton has never won a race from anything other than pole position.

Given that one of the media’s favourite memes was to wax lyrical about Hamilton’s prodigious overtaking ability, we are beginning to see a Jekyll and Hyde career of Lewis Hamilton. No doubt, in his first few races Hamilton pulled off some amazingly opportunistic overtaking manoeuvres that made my jaw drop to the floor. His hoodwinking of Massa in Malaysia springs to mind, but his moves into turn one in the first couple of races were also particularly awesome.

But since then, he has become rather less impressive. He spent parts of the Malaysian Grand Prix unable to negotiate Mark Webber and Jarno Trulli. Meanwhile in Bahrain he made a hash of passing Alonso in the most embarrassing way possible, while later on in the race he got frustrated behind the Force India of Giancarlo Fisichella.

This was touched on in F1Fanatic’s liveblog at the weekend. See the conversation from 2:01 Rikhart onwards. I briefly forgot the no-swearing guideline… Sorry Keith! But I will repeat it in all its glory:

  • [Comment From Rikhart]
    Starting to get the feeling hamilton was one of the drivers who was most affected by driver aids ban!
  • Journeyer – rik, you’re right, but i think it still affects massa more.
  • Scott Joslin – good point, he does not seem to be able to move through the field like before
  • Scott Joslin – but he is still young and will learn
  • doctorvee – it’s the same old. new f1 driver comes in and blasts everyone away, then becomes a boring old bastard by his 15th race
  • Journeyer – you’re referring to lewis, scott?
  • Scott Joslin – yeah
  • Journeyer – hahaha! good point, doc. it must be that lack of fear that makes drivers so quick at the start… then the sophomore slump. the best indicator of how good a driver is is usually in his 3rd season.

I am now seeing more and more mentions of “second season syndrome” (see, for instance, Ed Gorman). I love to compare Lewis Hamilton to Jacques Villeneuve. This is partly because Jacques Villeneuve was the last person to have such a successful début season and it also highlights the fact that a storming start to your F1 career is no indication of how it will be viewed in full. But at least Jacques Villeneuve won the Championship in his second season! What if Hamilton doesn’t manage that?

It is not uncommon to see a driver looking full of energy and creativity in his early races only to become conservative and mundane quite quickly. For some reason, something happens in a driver’s career that makes him become cautious.

I can’t help feeling that Lewis Hamilton’s lacklustre end to the 2007 season has contributed to his creative slump. He managed to lose a massive 17 point lead in the two final races. It is generally accepted that Hamilton’s over-aggressive approach in those final two races contributed to his Championship loss.

He was racing for the win when he didn’t need to. He stormed off into the lead in Shanghai thereby giving him excessive tyre wear which eventually landed him in the gravel trap. Then an over-ambitious move into turn 1 at Interlagos put paid to his Championship chances for good. I have to wonder if this is a case of twice bitten, thrice shy.

To Lewis Hamilton’s real credit, he has immediately put his hands up and taken full responsibility for his lacklustre weekend at Bahrain. That is the first step to starting a strong fightback. It is amusing, though, that the British media nevertheless leapt to his defence, blaming Alonso for the crash. Normally it is the drivers who come up with the cheesy, half-baked excuses.

Now I get the impression that it is more important for British journalists than it is for Lewis Hamilton himself that Hamilton becomes Champion this year. The journalists will be sorely discredited if he doesn’t. Meanwhile, the natural peaks and troughs of a Formula 1 career play out in full for Lewis Hamilton.

* As an aside, it is worth drawing attention to F1 Wolf’s analysis of Felipe Massa’s last nine races. It is very interesting, revealing that Massa has in fact had the more successful career of late. And yet, Hamilton reamins the golden boy, while everyone is out to throw stones at Massa.

26 comments

  1. Agree wholeheartedly! I’m convinced the last stunningly good race Hamilton had was the USGP…he really has not shown the kind of sparkle in his driving since then. That edge is just not there like it was…perhaps believing the press about his talent was just too seductive…or even all the talk of his “stealing” setups lead to the disaster at the British GP which I think rattled him more than was evident initially.

    I love the Villeneuve comparison as well…I think there is something very educational about driving, what I believe Mark Webber once referred to as, a shed around for at least your rookie year in F1. How do you hone skills in a beautifully balanced car? I can only imagine a great driver who learns how to unlock performance from a “dog” car can transfer those skills to even get better performance from a great car. I’ve heard people comment that Lewis has only driven the top cars on the grid for many, many years. Maybe the result of that is what we’re seeing now.

  2. That is a very good point Kathryn. Historically, how many champions began their careers in a car as good as the McLaren? In recent times, I can think only of Jacques Villeneuve yet again.

    Raikkonen started in the decidedly midfield Sauber team.
    Alonso began at Minardi, and even when he moved to Renault they were not that great.
    Schumacher began at Jordan.
    Hakkinen’s career started at McLaren when they were in a trough.
    Even Damon Hill began in a dog of a Brabham.

    I think you’re on to something there!

  3. Ahem – Hakkinen’s career started at Lotus, who were in even more of a trough than McLaren.

    Am I remembering correctly that his steering wheel came off in his first race? Phoenix 1991?

  4. Looking a bit further back:
    Prost – started at McLaren, who were in one of their periodic low points.
    Mansell – Lotus in one of their periodic low points.
    Senna – Toleman. Not frontrunners, certainly.
    Piquet – started with Ensign (one race) and a privately run McLaren (three races).
    Rosberg sr. – drove a variety of complete dogs before joining Williams. (He didn’t score a single point the year before his world championship, despite competing in all the races!)
    Maybe you really are onto something.

    To make a proper comparison you have to look to see if anyone actually made their start in a top team, though. Not many do.

  5. Also interesting to note that Hamiltons results started to slump almost immediately after Hungary – which you can argue is when things broke down irrevocably between Alonso and McLaren.

    Maybe it’s the loss of those famous six tenths? After all, we can be sure Alonso wasn’t really putting in the effort from then onwards.

  6. Another interesting observation Pink Peril! Although the theory has to ignore the European Grand Prix, which was Hamilton’s first bad result.

  7. Great post Doctorvee ! and thanks for mentioning my post here too 🙂 I am glad that people in general understood what it was meant to point out (in no way it was an attempt to bash Lewis Hamilton)

    I would add to the point made by Pink Peril. Last year it was at Silverstone where Hamilton chose perhaps first time his own set up. He got it wrong and ended up off the pace the leading cars.

    Some people suggested in the comments below my article that slump in McLaren car form is the reason behind Hamilton recent not so successful races (except the wins at Fuji and Melbourne). Well may be the case, but that does not explain why finished behind Heikki twice this year …

    But we should also remember in what situation Kimi was for half of 2007 season and what happened at the end the season …

  8. This is the analysis that keeps repeating in all the serious Spanish F1 blogs. The concept that you are looking for is what we call “leather”. A junior pilot has skin that must become leather before being taken seriously. Although Hamilton did a magnificent GP2 season, that is not “leathering” enough. Just look the first year of Kovalainen (which fortunately got better at the end of the season) or the season of Glock and Piquet so far.
    The wise team for Hamilton’s first year should have been Red Bull or Williams for example. Certainly better than Alonso’s Minardi, but not as demanding as McLaren.
    I feel that there are a lot of pilots that could have performed as well (or even better) than Hamilton last year. He had a great car and a great team. The problem may be that somewhere in the season he lost his real objective (learning) and found another that he wasn’t able to comply. He is the best at qualifying and he certainly knows how to profit from that, but I fear that’s not enough to win a champ. He must cool his head, learn to cope with the affairs of the second and third grid lines and gain a lot of self-conciousness. Sadly, he can’t return to the safety of the junior pilot now, he is the leader. Will he be able to survive to the demanding British media and fans? I hope so, because I am starting to feel sorry for him. Nobody deserves a full-scale tabloid attack.

  9. Looking back to the pre-Hamilton days, when McLaren were swithering over whether to give him the drive or not, Coulthard got a lot of flack in the press for suggesting Lewis should not be given the drive.

    He clarified this by pointing out that in his opinion Lewis was a good driver, but would learn more from a year as McLaren’s test driver, before then being given a full race contract.

    The way Lewis started last year seemed to dispell this idea – he seemed to be learning just fine “on the job” but looking back now, how differently it could have turned out.

    If McLaren had hired someone else for a year, Alonso wouldn’t have felt under so much pressure and it’s unlikely his teammate would have beaten him when Hamilton did – therefore it’s conceivable Alonso would be a triple World Champion by now.

    And still a McLaren driver this year no doubt!

    In the meantime, Lewis would have toughened up a bit and learned a lot driving behind the scenes as it were, away from the public gaze. Then this year I dare say he would have been in a stronger position even than he is now.

    There’s no doubting that being a test driver is the best way to clock up thousands of miles and to really learn how changes in setup affect the car – time in the simulator just won’t compare with time in the car.

  10. Wow, i like the ‘time in a shed’ theory.

    To add yet another, ‘our Nige’ (sorry for the nationlistic overtones 😉 ) started at Lotus.

    However, i would like to make Schumacher the exception to the rule. His debut at Jordan consisted of some Silverstone test miles, qualy at Spa and a single race lap. I’m not sure if that counts as a season in a she. Maybe just enough experience to say ‘never again’!

  11. Craig — Unless his form picks up again soon, giving Lewis Hamilton a year or two to learn will begin to look like the world’s biggest missed opportunity. I’d say it’s a certainty that Alonso would be WDC, possibly still driving for McLaren and most of the problems that beset McLaren last year would not have existed. Meanwhile, in 2008 or 2009 Hamilton could move in to become Champion having gained the experience he needs. That can’t happen any more.

    Pecker — Indeed, although when Schumacher moved to Benetton they weren’t a top team. You can even argue that when he moved to Ferrari they weren’t a top team either. This second period in a shed may have contributed to the huge successes of 2000 onwards.

  12. Agreed Craig. However, I think racing with a “bad” car is even better than testing. Alonso is supposed to have learned to setup in Minardi, where every second counts.

  13. Yep! a few British&Spanish men really brave writing here. If many of the people posting in a few journal blogs get your address you would be in serious trouble….

    I can sense how some of you start to feel how a big mistake it was the arrangements of McLaren last year. It looks like the whole situation is burning out the young promise, Lewis, a faboulous driver (at least last year) capable of beating most people in qualification, and nowadays, if you have a good car and get often pole position, you are a serious candidate to win the championship.

    What is failing this year? it has been only 3 races, but it is very tempting to me to consider that this has a lot to do with the fact that Fernando is no longer in McLaren. But I accept that if things do change and he gets the championship then I will conclude that the “Fernando factor” was not that important. But at the moment this is a very likely reason, and I can only feel very sorry that this did not work out properly last year. It has been very bad for British, Spanish, Lewis and Fernando!

  14. Excuse me gentlemen, when you say “Nige” are you perhaps referring to Mr. Nigel Mansell?
    Because Mansell was the pilot of my infancy, probably the best most underrated pilot of History, my all-time favourite. I wonder what does he think of all this affair…

  15. I’ve been thinking this since Hungary almost – its about car set-up, and Lewis seems to be lacking in that department.

    The wise move for McLaren at the end of last year would be to bring in a more experienced head who could take Lewis under his wing – Webber or Button perhaps? It seemed like they were concentrating too much on making sure Lewis was #1, rather than what would do him & McLaren the best long term.

    At some point last season Lewis started to believe his own hype and quit learning. He had the chance to work with and learn from the reigning world champion and he turned it into a battle that neither of them won. He won’t get that chance again.

    I sincerely hope that this turns out to be nonsense and McLaren & Lewis come right back into it in Barcelona, but at the moment Lewis looks pretty much equal to his team-mate.

  16. Your comments are rubbish. How can you say Hamilton is the Golden Boy? Never NEVER have I seen so much negativity thrown at one driver. Never NEVER have I seen such glee in someone’s downfall. Especially from nasty bloggers like you, and the British public and the British media. The few who stick up for him come in for the most appalling stick. I sometimes wonder where you people come from, I really do. I think you will only be pleased if Hamilton is hounded out of F1 by a pack of rabid dogs and exiled to a barren island for the rest of his life. To say his amazing first year was a fluke is stupid, no more no less. He has made mistakes, but his mistakes are pounced on so much harder than anyone else’s. Coulthard and Button are rubbish in most races, embarrassingly so, but they still have people slavering after them with admiration, for what I do not know. Massa has been less than brilliant this season so far, crashing out of 2 races, and now because he’s won one race, he’s suddenly better than Hamilton. What utter rubbish. Raikkonen had a poor first race, but that just goes unnoticed. Then when Hamilton wins, he is criticised for doing it from pole. Most of Alonso’s wins were from pole too. Hamilton gets criticised more for the same things other drivers do but they don’t get any criticism. Well I hope you enjoy your orgy of schadenfreude. I personally hope that Hamilton wins every race left this season, FROM POLE, just to get the haters frothing at the mouth. I’m sick of the lot of you!

    I can only think that the hatred he receives stems from racism, because you obviously hate this polite, decent black man doing so well in what you deem to be a white man’s sport. I won’t return to this stupid blog to read the replies if I get any, as they usually go round in circles: “how dare you say I’m racist”, blah blah blah. I know the truth and it saddens and disgusts me.

  17. Ah, the racism card. Beautiful. Remember, I wasn’t the first one to mention Lewis Hamilton’s race. It is deeply ironic that this argument should be plucked out time and time again given that so many people support Lewis Hamilton purely because of where he comes from, purely because the British press are desperate to see a British winner and will throw stones at Alonso for the heinous crime of being a Spaniard.

  18. F1 Wolf, you’ve confirmed how little you actually watch the races by not knowing how Lewis finished behind Heikki twice this year. Hamilton was heading for a podium after overtaking Heikki in the first lap in Malaysia – the 20 second pitstop when they couldn’t get the wheel off did for him. You seem to fit the “facts” around your argument instead of looking at what actually happened. You’re all so smug in your agreement of Lewis’ uselessness, his lack of set up ability. I’ve read quite expert writings about the set up myth being something perpetrated by the Spanish media, and the good ol’ Brits have taken it by the teeth and run with it and some!

  19. Juan H, how can you call it “brave writing” when you all bleeding agree with each other. I think my writing is “brave” because I can imagine the flak that will pour down to have the temerity to support Lewis. I won’t return to read it because I do admit, it’s depressing and disheartening. But I have to have my say. Gosh, you all sound like a right nasty bunch of barstewards.

  20. @ S Hughes

    Personally, I am not wishing Lewis to fail, and my thoughts about him have nothing at all to do with his “race” (we were all of the human race last i checked).

    I personally would be extremely happy if Lewis became the World Champion in 2008, but on the showing so far this year, I’m not sure that that will happen, primarily because I and, it would appear from the above posts, many others do not think he’s ready yet. I think that Lewis is at the head of a number of young drivers who are bringing in a refreshing change of the guard in F1, a list which also includes Robert Kubica, Nico Rosberg & the 2 Sebs. That is to be welcomed.

    However, at present we know that Lewis can drive a great car well, but can he turn a good car into a great one? That is the question that is being posed here. Race, and negativity about Lewis, have nothing to do with it.

  21. Good posts and comments on this thread. Congrats. I am not sure if I can add any new comments to this thread but I will try with my 2 cents.

    My conclusion of LH is that he is surely a quick driver but probably lacks in the department of setting up the car. There is a lot of circumstantial evidence of that.

    He came into a top team with best car in years. Alonso did a lot of setup work of the car and Lewis was only happy to drive it. He didn’t much contribute to the setup. I remember Alonso complaining many times that as soon as he had found a new setup it was always immediately copied to Lewis’ car. First time last mid season (I forgot which race) LH differed from the setup of FA and got it immediately wrong.

    Remember, Lewis hasn’t been driving F1 before (like Alonso) and hasn’t been a test driver (like Heikki). Rookies of this year have commented that biggest difference in F1 is the amount of testing required, indicating the lack of that in other series. So the F1 testing and setting up can’t be learnt without years in F1 driving or F1 testing. This is where Hamilton lacks experience.

    Consequently this is why this idea of Year in the Shed looks to be right to the point. One needs that experience to be able to set up the car correctly.

    Other note is about winning from behind the pole. Great champions have won races from any grid position for example Schumi, Alonso, Kimi. On the other hand Lewis and Massa have won races only from pole (before Bahrain, and even the Massa practically won from the pole). I am sure Lewis is a good driver but he is overhyped and overrated mostly by british media (but that sells newspapers very well…). Outside the rainy island there is little bit more objective treatment of LH.

  22. well, as mentioned before, you have to be really brave to write here in terms that do not follow the hype of the British press and some bloggers (i.e. read a message a little bit above).

    If I have to believe what some people say, once Lewis fails (eventually) the same British press will “kill” Lewis as it happened before with Button etc. In this sense, it (how McLaren managed the whole thing last year) will be a practical demonstration of how to burn out a young promise. You are still in time of changing the situation so that does not happen; in fact I do want Lewis plenty of energy, and, obviously, that Fernando gets a decent car. Then we will have one of the most fascinating years regarding F1 racing.