Do a rookie move followed by an angry radio message by Lewis Hamilton following his own mistake indicate that he is nearing the end of his Formula 1 career?
One of Mercedes’ best grid positions of the 2023 Formula 1 season resulted in disaster in turn one of the recent Qatar Grand Prix, with Lewis Hamilton inexplicably attempting to sweep around the outside of teammate George Russell and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
Verstappen held his line, Russell stayed close to his outside, and Hamilton seemingly attempted to win the race in its first 10 seconds, resulting in a double Mercedes spin out which saw the seven-time world champion forced to retire with damage.
He proceeded to blame his teammate for the incident, stating that he was “taken out by my own teammate”.
I’m not one to put too much stock into in-race team radio messages. It seems as though drivers are always angry (emotions do run high in the moment) and sometimes upset driver commentary is more along the lines of what you’d fine in a Twitter feed than actual grounds for a talking point.
I think that’s the case again this time, as Hamilton later accepted the blame for the incident. Russell, knowing it was his teammate, played it smart and simply waited for the replay to be shown rather than flipping out on the radio himself. He managed to rally from the back of the field to finish in fourth place, his second best result of the year.
Having said that, does the fact that Hamilton put himself into that position, and then immediately tried to deflect the blame (something he has done on several occasions in the past), signal a bigger problem?
Not only is this the second race in a row in which tensions have run high between the teammates (you know what they say about when the Wolff is away…), but Hamilton is slowly become one of the most mistake-prone drivers on the grid.
But by virtue of being a seven-time champion and triple-digit race winner, it’s no secret that he has, by and large, been given a pass by the court of public opinion (aside from the admittedly anti-Hamilton crowd).
In 2019, he spun Alex Albon out of a sure maiden podium and a career-best second place finish in Interlagos. In the 2020 opener in Austria, he did the same thing, when Albon was likely going to win after Mercedes were caught sleeping under a safety car while Albon took new tires.
Then we all saw what happened on the opening lap at Silverstone in 2021, when Hamilton decided to take a line that he has literally never taken while battling with a driver other than Max Verstappen into Copse, wrecking his title rival and sending him to hospital while he celebrated a win in front of the home crowd after what was nothing more than a token penalty.
Later that season in Monza, both drivers were equally at fault for a collision that took them both out, though after the media largely billed what was clearly Hamilton’s mistake as a 50-50 incident in Silverstone, it was no surprise that this one was pinned solely on Verstappen and he was subsequently issued penalty points.
Hamilton was also just as guilty as Verstappen for their shenanigans at Jeddah in 2021, when Verstappen was either penalized or told to give up position on a total of six occasions throughout the event (including post-race), while Hamilton got off without a slap on the wrist despite having played a direct role in all three of the controversial incidents between the two.
At Spa in 2022, also on the opening lap, Hamilton then wrecked himself out of the race with a way-too-aggressive move on old rival Fernando Alonso.
Now after Qatar, we are as close as we’ve been to Barcelona 2016 territory, when Formula 1 witnessed that incident between Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.
To some extent, I don’t blame anybody for giving Hamilton the benefit of the doubt. He is statistically the best driver of all-time, and even on raw talent, I’d put him in a group with Verstappen, Michael Schumacher, and Ayrton Senna — as most probably would. Everybody makes mistakes, and you can’t just ignore everything he has accomplished when he makes one.
But the fact is that we have reached a point where he has been making rookie mistakes for years, and while other drivers such as Verstappen are still regularly judged for mistakes they made as teenagers, Hamilton gets a pass for being relatively careless.
And considering the fact that he has spent the better part of the last decade not really needing to battle anybody on the race track, it’s somewhat of an alarming rate of miscues when it comes to wheel-to-wheel racing.
Having said all of that, no, I don’t think this signals the end of Lewis Hamilton in Formula 1.
Sure, his driving style might not get the same treatment as others do. But skill-wise, there is no doubt that Hamilton is still able to extract pace out of whatever car he is given, and while he is in line for his second straight winless season, there is little doubt that he is still capable of running at the front.
He may not be on the level of Verstappen at this point in their respective careers. In fact, let’s just say it; he’s not. He needs more than a Mercedes resurgence to be able to compete with the three-time reigning world champion over the course of an entire season again like he did in 2021.
And let’s face it; there is no guarantee that Mercedes will be “back”. In fact, it’s silly to even use that word, considering the fact that we are talking about far new rules and regulations from when they dominated the hybrid era.
While an improvement in their current form isn’t out of the question, there’s nothing to go “back” to, in that sense of the word. They’re not entitled to P1 just because they had it for seven years in a row.
But let’s not forget that Hamilton was largely written off after last season, when then-first-year teammate George Russell became the first non-championship-winning teammate to beat him since 2011 — and the first non-champion to beat him as a teammate ever. It also marked the first time he lost by more than one spot to a teammate in the standings since 2011.
In 2023, he has responded with a vengeance, which may very well have played into going just a bit too far on his teammate on lap one in Qatar. He sits in third place in the driver standings as the top non-Red Bull driver and is responsible for five of Mercedes’ six podium finishes, placing him a whopping five spots ahead of his teammate in the standings.
He is spearheading Mercedes’ efforts to finish runner-up in the constructor standings, while Russell sits behind drivers from five different teams.
For as many as mistakes as he has made, it sure doesn’t seem like he’s at the end of the road quite yet — and this would be the case even had he not just signed an extension to remain with Mercedes through 2025.
Plus, doesn’t the fact that he has made mistakes for years — not just recently — sort of, in a roundabout way, indicate that not much has changed?
At some point, every all-time great driver hits a point in their career where they “fall off”, sometimes due to the car, sometimes due to the driver, and sometimes — most times — due to a combination of both.
In Hamilton’s case, the car certainly hasn’t been as strong as when he was dominating races from 2014 to 2020, and errors such as those mentioned above indicate that it’s partially both.
But is there seriously a decline? I don’t think you can really point to one. The 2022 season was a down season for him, and his “wait until you see me this year” comments certainly came back to bite him, but the 2023 season was billed as a hugely important year for both him and Russell, and Hamilton has solidified his status as Mercedes’ top driver.
Was it unfortunate what happened in Qatar? 100%. Was it all that surprising? Not at all. Does it signal that Hamilton is “washed up”? The suggestion is probably a bit crazy.