After a rough start to the 2022 Formula 1 season, have Lewis Hamilton’s comments from before the season began come back to bite him?
Following the 2021 Formula 1 season, there were doubts about whether seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton would return for a 10th season with Mercedes in 2022, despite the fact that he had signed a two-year extension to remain with the Silver Arrows through 2023 just a few months prior.
Hamilton was denied what would have been a record-breaking eighth world championship on the final lap of the 2021 season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, following a controversial call during the last safety car period.
Hamilton went silent following the heartbreaking defeat, and there was speculation that he would decide not to return to the sport in 2022 because of how “disillusioned” the end of the 2021 season left him.
But he ended his silence after about eight weeks and ultimately decided to return for a 16th season.
In doing so, he fired a warning to the rest of the grid. Here is what he had to say after confirming his return about a month before the 2022 season began.
"“With these long seasons the off time isn’t as long as you would hope for. It seems to get shorter and shorter. But I think over the years I’ve learned how to be efficient with my time, with my recovery, with training, with the building back up of the body and your mind.“But I feel great. I feel fit. Naturally when you have an extra year of experience under your belt that always helps. I always feel like through these sort of experiences you can turn that emotions into strength and into power, and that’s what I’m doing.“I’m putting that into my training. I’m putting that into the work I have with the men and women in this team. If you think that what you saw at the end of last year was my best, wait until you see this year.”"
Hamilton’s performance at the end of last season included three straight victories heading into the season finale, three victories which allowed him to tie Verstappen atop the driver standings. Prior to that three-race winning streak, he had not won three races in a row all year.
However, Hamilton’s performance to start the 2022 season has been anything but what he advertised.
It is no secret that Mercedes have struggled to start of this era of new regulations, with their new W13 proving to be a handful. While they do still rank third in the constructor standings, they have been well behind the top two teams of Red Bull and Ferrari through the first seven races on the 22-race calendar.
But George Russell, who is in his first season with the Brackley-based team after replacing Valtteri Bottas, has actually done quite well. He sits in fourth place in the driver standings, even ahead of Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz Jr., without a single finish outside of the top five. He is the only driver with seven top five finishes in seven races this year.
In fact, Russell has beaten Hamilton in six consecutive races, and he leads him by 34 points, which is bigger than any gap Verstappen had over Hamilton last year.
Hamilton’s only finish ahead of Russell this year came in the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix at Bahrain International Circuit, when Hamilton finished on the podium in third place ahead of Russell in fourth.
In the six races that have been contested since then, Russell has an average finish of 4.17, good for an average of 3.5 positions per race better than Hamilton. While Russell has not finished outside of the top five, Hamilton has just two top five finishes during that stretch.
Hamilton has certainly been bitten by misfortune at times this year, but it’s not a stretch to say that Russell has indeed been the stronger driver up to this point.
In fact, if Russell finishes ahead of the 103-time race winner for a seventh straight race, it would tie the all-time record for one of Hamilton’s teammates.
That record was set by Nico Rosberg when he won seven races in a row, three to end the 2015 season and four to start the 2016 season. That streak ended when Hamilton and Rosberg collided on the opening lap of the next race, but Rosberg went on to win the 2016 world championship.
And it doesn’t stop there. It’s a very small sample size, but Hamilton has only finished ahead of Russell in 14.3% of his starts as his teammate. Nicholas Latifi, Russell’s teammate at Williams in 2020 and 2021, beat Russell in 11 of 38 races (28.9%).
So have Hamilton’s preseason comments come back to bite him?
All signs point to yes, but only if all of these trends continue. And it is still far too early to determine that they will, even though Hamilton, who has never finished outside of the top five in the driver standings, does find himself in sixth place, already 33 points outside of the top five and 34 points behind Russell.
A win for Hamilton in 2022 would make the 2022 season his 16th consecutive winning season, which would break Michael Schumacher’s all-time record. While a record-breaking eighth world championship is probably out of the picture for this year, a win would certainly prevent the year from being a complete disappointment.