Winning Didn’t Change Lewis Hamilton. Neither Has Losing
Turns out the seven-time F1 champ is exactly who we thought he is.
Being a winning Formula 1 driver—or any F1 driver for that matter—is a weird experience. Being Lewis Hamilton, the most successful driver of all time is an entirely different thing. However in 2022, when he suddenly isn't winning anymore, things are a little bit different for the seven-time F1 champion. His life has surely changed. And who knows, maybe won't ever win again, unless Mercedes finds ways to improve its car.
F1 goes up and down, momentum moves between teams and there are dominant eras and then slumps. Williams, which hasn't exactly been challenging for titles (or anything else) for a long time now, was a real powerhouse a few decades ago. Same with McLaren. Everyone was so sick of Ferrari winning all the time in the 2000s that it was a relief when Red Bull turned up and started winning all the time. And then that got so repetitive that the birth of Mercedes-AMG—a new team at that time—was refreshing, and so was its dominance.
Big rule changes like the ones we've had in 2022 shake up the order, and it's fair to say Mercedes' car is not even close to the ones it's had in years prior. Hamilton's had one podium in it, George Russell has taken three but it's not a race-winning car.
That doesn't mean it can't happen, of course. Last year's McLaren wasn't really a race-winning car and Daniel Ricciardo still managed it in Monza. Last year's Alpine wasn't either but Esteban Ocon took the top step in Hungary. And Lewis Hamilton hasn't always had a race-winning car but has always managed to find a way to win—in every year of his career.
Seven races into the season isn't the longest he's gone without getting a W, but it's getting close. When he first took the leap of faith and moved from a race-winning McLaren to a mediocre-looking Mercedes factory team in 2013, it was the 10th round before he managed to win. But it does feel a bit unnatural to be talking about Hamilton dragging around in the midfield and suffering for it.
Mercedes doesn't really seem to know what to do about its car this year, which means Hamilton's taken on what he calls a "role and responsibility" to run test setups for the team. Every race weekend is basically a data-gathering session for Mercedes right now as they try to get on top of problems with porpoising, bouncing, and a lack of straight-line speed compared to Red Bull or Ferrari.
Hamilton told the press in Montreal that he's running an "extreme" low downforce setup to try yet another attempt to improve the pace. For someone who used to claim only did a maximum of 20 laps a year in the simulator, he's now been running the same test programs that Mercedes might have tasked its test driver with in previous years.
A lot has changed since the last time Hamilton wasn't constantly winning. In 2013 he had one title, in 2022 he has seven and is coming off such a dominant run that he could sincerely justify retirement. He's also 37, not 28, and as much as Fernando Alonso might try to deny it, F1 careers do have an eventual deadline.
It'd be easy to see Hamilton, who is currently outscored by his new teammate George Russell, as being at a potential endpoint in his career. He doesn't seem to be, though; he's still the same Lewis, still competitive, still occasionally snippy, still confrontational, and still nerdy enough to be posting reels of him playing Ayrton Senna's Super Monaco Grand Prix II on a vintage Sega console. And, of course, still sharing plenty of snaps on his dog's Instagram account.
The only thing that's really changed is that he's just not winning—and that feels like a strange thing to write about.
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