Lewis Hamilton off to a bad start and it could get worse for F1 world champion

Mercedes driver finished fourth in the season-opening Austrian Grand Prix; the action returns to the Red Bull Ring this weekend

Lewis Hamilton made a poor start to 2020 but that should come as no surprise to anyone. And while F1 is back with a bang, history suggests things will probably get worse for the man himself before they get better.

The Red Bull Ring has always been his Achilles heel. He has won the race, of course, back in 2016. Otherwise, I suspect, it is the place where his record is worst. By his own high standards his results have been pretty appalling.

And it can hardly be the car which has won the race five times in the last seven years.

In fact, Valtteri Bottas has out-qualified Hamilton in Austria every year since he became his teammate in 2017 and won twice from pole. Previous teammate Nico Rosberg did the same. Hamilton has not even made the podium for the last four visits.

Of course, the big picture is very different. Hamilton is unquestionably a modern great and has won nearly as many championships as the current championship leader (Bottas) has won races (8).

Rosberg was so taxed by competing against Hamilton he had to resort to mental training, study of sport psychology and philosophy as well as banning bruising newspaper reports to beat Hamilton to the title in 2016. Job done, he retired instantly, admitting he was exhausted from competing against Hamilton.

But the fact Hamilton is usually so superior to Bottas makes this lapse even more puzzling.

A few years back when I asked him about his overall record at Spielberg, Hamilton’s response was spiky, even for him. It was clearly a sore point.

So he must have sighed and cursed his luck when the calendar was published, knowing that he would not only be opening his title defence at the track but racing there twice in consecutive weekends.

There is clearly the issue of momentum, too. If his mild-mannered sidekick – the Robin to his Batman – can win again on Sunday then history may threaten to repeat itself. The only time Hamilton has been beaten to the title by his teammate, Rosberg (another Finn) rode the momentum of winning the opening four races all the way to glory in Abu Dhabi.

It’s difficult to say why Hamilton finds the Red Bull Ring such a challenge, especially when Hungary, where he has triumphed seven times, is so similar.

Michael Schumacher had issues with Spielberg too, a similarity I put to Hamilton years back and was greeted with more than a snarl.

Last Sunday, Hamilton was the architect of many of his own problems but a typically battling performance saw him to fourth.

Talking of history repeating itself, some speculated the amiable Bottas had "done a Rosberg", copying the German’s famous fake crash, which he denies, to steal pole at Monaco in 2014.

In Austria, Hamilton was supposed to be benefitting from an agreed tactic of Bottas giving him a tow, which is worth 0.3 seconds a lap, instead the Finn’s spin spoiled everything (for Hamilton at least).

At the same corner, Turn 4, in the race Hamilton understeered into Alexander Albon for the second time in three races and earned himself a time penalty which cost him a spot on the podium.

It was a masterful move by Albon. Most drivers would rather have their faces planted in fresh doggy-do than see a rival go around the outside of them like that. It’s not the ultimate racing insult, but it’s not far off either.

Afterwards the furious Thai racer branded Hamilton a “sore loser”.

Bad as the day was, Hamilton must remain title favourite and take succour from the fact that Austria is followed by two of his best tracks. Hungary is the Briton's happiest hunting ground and he has won six times at his home track.

Fernando Alonso won both his F1 drivers' titles with Renault, in 2005 and 2006. Reuters
Fernando Alonso won both his F1 drivers' titles with Renault, in 2005 and 2006. Reuters

While it was a bad day for the sport’s biggest name another has emerged from the shadows.

After time away from the sport Fernando Alonso was confirmed Wednesday at Renault DP World F1 Team for 2021 with title ambitions for 2022.

Arguably the greatest talent of modern times and one of the greatest ever, two championships are scant reward for his prodigious talent.

While it’s an announcement to quicken the pulse of every real fan, there are a multitude of questions. Much will rest on Renault’s technical development because they are nowhere near title challengers right now.

And then there is the man himself. Will the reality match the dream? It’ll be 15 years since his last world title: is he the same hungry, passionate racer? We’ll have to wait at least a year for the answer for that one.

Hamilton, though, will get answers a lot sooner.

Published: July 9, 2020 11:13 AM


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