By Tom from DATS Life Podcast
Lewis Hamilton has made no secret of the effect his idol Ayrton Senna has had on his career. The Brazilian won three Formula 1 world titles before his life was tragically ended in 1994, but his legacy had already been written. The ultimate racer became the ultimate inspiration.
Now, 23 years later, and Hamilton has already emulated his hero – statistically anyway. So what now? The ambition was always to win a trio of titles. Does Hamilton have the desire to win another one?
At the start of the 2015 season Hamilton stood on the top step of the podium as a double world champion, having secured victory at the season opener in Melbourne. More to the point however, his Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg stood alongside him in second – and even that early in the season, Hamilton had Rosberg beaten.
Hamilton went on to win the title in 2015 with relative ease, and in doing so realised a childhood dream. In years to come we may look back on that as a turning point – because since then, it just hasn’t happened for him.
At Melbourne in 2016, it was Rosberg who stood victorious. What a difference a year made. Hamilton looked different. That invincibility from a year ago had disappeared. He didn’t look like a world beater any more, and Rosberg sensed his opportunity.
A lot can be said about the unreliability of Hamilton’s Mercedes during that year, but Hamilton made plenty of errors himself. In 2014 he suffered with similar unreliability issues, but found a way to keep his head above water and push on towards victory in the season finalé.
So what of 2017? Hamilton’s former team-mate a distant memory. It’s a German in a Ferrari that’s his competition this time.
The opening races saw Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton trade blows, but after six rounds Vettel was starting to pull away. The difference between them: when Vettel hadn’t won he was taking second. When Hamilton didn’t win, he struggled – most noticeably at Monaco, in a race that highlighted my point.
Hamilton was well aware how difficult it is to overtake around the streets of Monte Carlo, so qualifying near the front was imperative. In Q2 he made a mistake. Admittedly the session was red flagged early and Hamilton had to abandon his final flying lap, but so did many others.
Hamilton made the mistake of not setting a banker lap earlier in the session. Being at the top of the time sheet in Q2 is not important. Being in the top 10 is, and with a car that should be doing that with ease it was a slip up on Hamilton’s part.
Of course, different seasons create different circumstances. But surely the Hamilton from 2014 would have been smarter about his approach? He would have found a way, like all the great sportsmen and women in their prime do. Since the back end of 2015, he simply hasn’t been in that zone.
But can we blame him? Hamilton has achieved what he had set out to do. If the same fire isn’t rumbling within, how can you reach the highest heights? It is only natural, and happens to us all.
In a similar case, Vettel’s Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen once said he only wanted to win one world title – and it is fair to say since winning the championship in 2007 he has not matched the level of performance he produced during that year. Next up after Monaco was Canada.
The scene of Hamilton’s first Formula 1 victory and a track he has enjoyed much success at. Again he took victory, and maybe that will prove the turning point that swung the 2017 championship back in his favour.
Or maybe that will also be the British Grand Prix, where Hamilton was at his supreme best. When he reaches that level, he looks untouchable.
But there has still been an inconsistency in Lewis’ season, while Vettel visibly has that ruthless fire in his eyes – a confidence we haven’t seen since his Red Bull days, even despite another sticky year at Silverstone.
If that same fire is really missing from Hamilton, it could well prove the difference between the pair come the end of the season.
♦ Tom is co-host of DATS Life Podcast. You can follow Tom and Dave on Twitter @DATSLifePodcast – and it’s the same link to give the guys a listen.