RACING

F1: How Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes can still fight back and continue their winning streak

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Montreal offers many happy memories to Lewis Hamilton.

Circuit Gilles Villeneuve was the scene of his first Formula 1 Grand Prix victory, as well as his first pole position since his first year at McLaren in 2007.

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The wins have piled up in Canada since – seven of them in total. Only in Great Britain and Hungary did he triumph more with eight victories and he raced at Silverstone and the Hungaroring three more times than his 12 visits to the artificial island in the St. Lawrence.

Lewis Hamilton celebrates his very first race at the 2007 Canadian Grand Prix

Simple math tells us that when Hamilton arrives in Canada he’s most likely to walk away with the winner’s trophy, but this year he’ll likely be very lucky to finish in the top three.

As late as Sunday he may have been unlikely to start the race due to a back injury and that pretty much sums up what is turning into a nightmarish season for the seven-time world champion.

Never mind failing to win in Canada, the 37-year-old’s fortunes are such that it is now feared that, for the first time in his Formula 1 career, he could go an entire year without a race win.

It was supposed to be the year Hamilton ended the bitter disappointment of his controversial last-round title loss to Max Verstappen in Abu Dhabi last year by winning a record eighth world championship.

Hamilton has won a race in every Grand Prix season since but is struggling for wins in 2022

Hamilton has won a race in every Grand Prix season since but is struggling for wins in 2022

Those hopes already looked dashed, with Hamilton 88 points behind Verstappen – whose Red Bull side appear to be class of the pack.

But is there any hope that Hamilton will somehow continue his streak of landing on the top step of the podium this year?

If we go by the evidence from 2022, it doesn’t look good. Not only does he no longer have the best car, but this year’s Mercedes also seems to be one of the toughest cars to drive on the grid. Even when a sweet spot is found in the setup, it’s just not up to par with Red Bull and, to a large extent, Ferrari.

All eight races were won by Red Bull or Charles Leclerc for the Maranello team and Mercedes did not hesitate to come close.

No matter the race wins, Hamilton must beat his team-mate first – something he hasn’t done since the opening race of the season when he claimed third after a dramatic double retirement from Red Bull at the end of the race.

The Briton hasn't even made it to the podium since finishing third in the opening race in Bahrain

The Briton hasn’t even made it to the podium since finishing third in the opening race in Bahrain

In the last seven races Hamilton has finished behind new Mercedes team-mate George Russell

In the last seven races Hamilton has finished behind new Mercedes team-mate George Russell

Since Sakhir, George Russell went on to beat his fellow Brit in the next seven races, earning three podiums himself and establishing a rather worrying 37-point lead over Hamilton from the veteran’s perspective.

Russell is new to the team after arriving from Williams at the start of 2022 to replace Valtteri Bottas, who in his five years as Hamilton’s teammate had long been chewed and spat on as a competitive threat even though the two maintained a relationship. harmonious relationship. .

Russell, however, has upset the balance and the 24-year-old is now a serious threat to Hamilton, who is unlikely to improve this late in his career as he approaches the wrong side of 40.

Even if Mercedes find a sudden solution to their car’s lack of pace, it looks like Hamilton is also facing one of the toughest team-mate battles he’s had in his career.

Mercedes’ troubles offer a mixture of frustration and light at the end of the tunnel, although so far it’s quite the first for Hamilton.

Hamilton suffered from the bouncing phenomenon caused by porpoising in his Mercedes

Hamilton suffered from the bouncing phenomenon caused by porpoising in his Mercedes

A highly experimental approach to designing a new car for the new rules and regulations for 2022 has led Mercedes to a unique ‘no side pod’ design and it seems to have gotten them into all sorts of trouble.

While most cars on the grid have had to contend with porpoises, no team suffers more than Mercedes from the phenomenon that causes the car to violently bounce up and down at up to six times the force of gravity when the car reaches high speeds in a straight line. .

It was exactly this issue that saw Hamilton barely out of his cockpit after finishing fourth in Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix after complaining of back pain.

Mercedes may raise the ride height of the car to combat this, but the Silver Arrows are hoping the FIA ​​will force each team to raise theirs as well due to the negative impact this will have on lap times.

Hamilton will be relieved to hear F1 chiefs on Thursday commit to scrapping porpoising on the advice of his medical teams.

A statement from F1’s governing body, released ahead of this weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix, read: “The FIA, as the sport’s governing body, has decided that, in the interest of safety , it is necessary to intervene to demand that the teams make the necessary adjustments to reduce or eliminate this phenomenon [of porpoising].

“The FIA ​​has decided to intervene after consultation with its doctors in the interests of driver safety.”

The team may even find a solution for it, and if it does, it could be the silver bullet that will get them back in contention for race wins.

This led to back injuries as he is helped from his car after the Azerbaijan Grand Prix

This led to back injuries as he is helped from his car after the Azerbaijan Grand Prix

Sound unrealistic? In 2009, as reigning world champion, Hamilton spent the first half of the season struggling close to the back – even being the second slowest car at Silverstone in qualifying – before winning two races later the Hungarian Grand Prix due to major upgrades to his McLaren.

Such improvements are theoretically limited this quarter due to a budget cap, but Hamilton is now driving the third-best car on the grid and not one of the worst. The fact is that dramatic improvements can be found.

But even if there are no car performance gains, there are other ways for Hamilton to secure a victory before the end of the season.

Grands Prix tend to have weird random races where chaos reigns and an unlikely winner emerges, which tends to happen in a wet race.

Hamilton was supreme in wet conditions, winning his seventh title in Turkey in 2020

Hamilton was supreme in wet conditions, winning his seventh title in Turkey in 2020

Advance the ultimate rain master. Hamilton has showcased his excellent wet weather handling throughout his career and it was in Turkey in 2020 where – in very slippery conditions on a wet track – he took a famous victory with his seventh World Championship, or last year in Russia when a late downpour saw him emerge from the carnage with the winner’s trophy.

Granted, Monaco were wet this season and found themselves stuck behind old rival Fernando Alonso for much of the race en route to eighth place – but the streets of Monte Carlo may be unique in that respect.

He was also out of pace at Imola on a wet track, but again his pace was hugely masked by being caught behind Pierre Gasly for much of the race in 13th place.

Admittedly, these are situations he could have avoided had he qualified better, but they should not be used as arguments against his talent in driving in wet weather.

But in the changing conditions at Imola this year he got stuck behind Pierre Gasly (above)

But in the changing conditions at Imola this year he got stuck behind Pierre Gasly (above)

It doesn’t even need to be wet either. One of Hamilton’s best performances this season came in Spain when, after being knocked out through no fault of his own at the start, he effectively came back from the back of the grid and to a superb fifth place – passing Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz in the process.

It’s the hope for Mercedes that when they can get the troublesome W13 working, they can offer Ferrari a fight, but what about Red Bull?

Never rule out the potential for retirements or freak safety cars. Granted, that means relying on luck, but a win is a win and given the questionable reliability of Red Bull and Ferrari – who had a double DNF last time out in Azerbaijan – Mercedes, the third-best team, are the better placed to pounce. Even a well-timed Safety Car could play Hamilton’s game and all he needs is a chance.

Remember, Alpine’s Esteban Ocon won the Hungarian Grand Prix last year with the fifth-best car, while the previous two races at Monza in Italy saw teams outside the top two claim success.

It looks grim for Hamilton in what is one of the most, if not the most trying seasons of his career, but given his talent and the curious way a season or even a race can fall into a driver’s lap – you just can’t decide. him to stand on the top step this year yet.

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