2022 F1 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix analysis, Lewis Hamilton, George Russell, Mercedes

“I’m out of the league for sure. There is no doubt about it.

Leaving Imola already 58 points off the title lead, it’s hard to argue with Lewis Hamilton’s self-assessment in four races.

Emilia-Romagna had been a particularly trying grand prix for the seven-time champion. He had qualified 13th in the wet, slipped to 14th at the end of the dry sprint and taken just one position in the mixed-conditions Grand Prix – and that was after two cars ahead him withdrew.

At pure pace, it was his worst result since a series of pointless races in mid-2009.

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It’s not even the first time we’ve invoked that 13-year-old stat this season – just two rounds ago, in Saudi Arabia, Hamilton suffered his first deserved knockout in Q1 since 2009. It’s no simple ebb for the Briton; that’s about the bottom of the barrel.

And here’s another low point: it’s the third race in a row that Hamilton has been beaten by George Russell. It’s only the fourth time in his 15-year career that his teammate has had an advantage over him for so long, and only once has it been longer – when Nico Rosberg beat him in the first four races of 2016 en route to its sole. championship.

Just four months ago, Lewis Hamilton was on the verge of an epic eighth title. Now he is struggling to pass the Aston Martin of Lance Stroll and buried in the peloton.

What is happening?

GEORGE RUSSELL MAKES THE CASE

It’s not just Lewis Hamilton’s underperformance, as credit goes to George Russell, who is the only driver to finish below fifth this year as he makes the most of his machines profoundly uninteresting.

But he’s the guy who, at 15, dressed up and walked into Toto Wolff’s office with a PowerPoint presentation explaining why he would be the perfect candidate for the team. Who won the Formula 4, GP3 and Formula 2 titles, the last two in a row. Who scored points for the woefully uncompetitive Williams team.

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He has been preparing for this concert for 10 years as a junior Mercedes. Are we really surprised that Russell is able to take the fight to Hamilton?

Curiously, three seasons of toiling at Williams may have been the ideal practice to deal with a Mercedes car increasingly likely to struggle to escape the lower parts of the grid.

“It’s just been a very difficult position for us as a team, and maybe with my struggles at Williams driving very difficult cars, maybe that helped in some ways,” he said. he declares. “Q1 and Q2 are now extremely important for us, whereas before for Mercedes it was child’s play, it was almost like a preparation session for Q3.

Hamilton, on the other hand, looked shocked to consider an entire weekend spent outside the top 10. It’s almost as if he’s drunk from the crash on the grid, while Russell is capable of absorb blow after disappointing blow and keep fighting. back.

Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images.Source: Getty Images

BUT THINGS ARE NOT AS BAD AS THEY SEEM FOR HAMILTON

It takes nothing away from Russell to say it, but Hamilton’s weaker runs this year have all had applicable mitigating factors.

At Imola, the glaring gap of nine places came down to one moment: the start of the race.

Russell started 11th on the grippiest side of the grid, while Hamilton was on the damping line in 14th. If you look at the aerial view of the start, almost without exception the drivers on the even side of the grid get worse launches.

From there, their races diverged. Russell gained two places off the line, three since the Turn 2 crash, another after the safety car and one more from Leclerc for fourth.

Hamilton’s launch wasn’t much worse, but he was pushed back in the race at Turn 2, which dropped him one place, and had to check at the crash site.

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The race then featured almost no overtaking, the narrow dry line preventing any creativity and the DRS remaining disabled until the mid-distance. Given that the Mercedes car has nothing more than midfield pace, Hamilton was helpless to progress.

The injury insult was pushed into the pit lane by Esteban Ocon, who dropped him from what would have been 11th to 14th. He recovered a place when the Frenchman took his penalty for a dangerous exit.

Saudi Arabia was even more strongly warned. Hamilton was eliminated from Q1 only because he was experimenting with set-ups as the team struggled with the realization that their car was not up to snuff, eventually arriving at the wrong setup. He would also have finished higher than 10th if a radio communication error had not missed his pit window late in the race.

Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images.Source: Getty Images

THE BOTTOM LINE IS THE CAR

But even if Hamilton’s races went well, we’re still talking about him possibly finishing fifth or sixth with Russell on any given weekend – and that’s at best considering McLaren and Alfa Romeo had them at pure pace. in Imola.

Hamilton’s haters will jump at the chance to say it’s proof the seven-time champion’s trophies are down to his car alone – an uncreative criticism that fails to acknowledge that all the sporting greats had the best machines in their provision – but as if more evidence was needed, there was a distinct mood swing at Mercedes over the weekend as the possibility that the W13 was in fact an irreparably bad car finally dawned on the team.

Brackley is still adamant that, according to the wind tunnel, the car has impressive speed when running at its optimum ride height, but as it’s extremely clear trackside and from TV footage, it can’t get near it without a catastrophic rebound – in fact the rebound is so bad that Russell says it gives him back and chest pain, a clearly untenable situation.

Photo by Andrej Isakovic / AFP.Source: AFP

More problematic still is that Mercedes has effectively paused its development pipeline, preferring instead to decode its issues without the noise of its car upgrading at the same time – but that comes at the expense of leaving the gap with the before widening faster.

Now, after four difficult races veering away from leading pace, team boss Toto Wolff has raised the specter of a fundamentally flawed car ripe for the trash.

“I wouldn’t say any concept is wrong, but is there any part of what we’ve done that just doesn’t work with the regulations, and what is it?” he said.

“If there are fundamental areas that are not allowing us to unlock the potential that we believe is in the car, then you need to cut your losses.”

And reducing losses at this stage would be great. These cars are the product of the dedication of much of the last year’s development, and with capped budgets and wind tunnel time limited by regulations, it could take years, not months, to recover from. erasing the slate.

Photo by Miguel Medina / AFP.Source: AFP

WILL THE CHAMPION CHECK?

If short of a sudden eureka moment in the design office, the outlook for Hamilton in 2022 is bleak. It was supposed to be the year of his eighth title after the crushing disappointment of Abu Dhabi; not only will eight have to wait, but it’s hard to imagine Mercedes even scoring regular podium finishes, let alone wins.

Which brings us to an impending third low for the season: will this be the first of Hamilton’s career to go without a single win?

In an unusual grenade thrown from the touchline, two-time champion Mika Häkkinen suggested the prospect would be enough for the Briton to pack it.

“I wonder how Lewis behaves in team meetings,” he said. “I imagine sulking. There are a lot of complaints and complaints.

“And now begins the natural thought process of drivers: ‘Should I go somewhere else?’

“It’s a fact. He’s been with Mercedes for years and won several championships.

“Now that things aren’t going well, he’s going to start thinking about changing teams.”

Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images.Source: Getty Images

But Hamilton couldn’t do it.

“I saw a few comments from some people that I remember growing up respecting when I was younger,” he said. “At the end of the day, their comments are dumb and a bunch of nonsense, all in an effort to grab headlines to stay relevant.

“I am 100% committed to this team. There’s nowhere else I want to be. Simply because we’ve been through a tough time – it’s not in my DNA to back down. We are still world champions.

“We can solve this problem. It’s going to take longer – I think ultimately it’s going to be a painful year that we’ll have to get through together and with the belief that we can fix it at some point, maybe throughout the year or, even in the worst case. , at least for next year.

It is instructive to look back at some of the things he said when he returned to Mercedes to launch the W13 earlier this year, after enduring an off-season of speculation that he would walk away from the sport after the controversial race for the title. .

“I’m usually a very determined person and I like to think about myself [that] while moments like this could define careers, I refuse to let that define mine,” he said. “And so my focus is on being the best I can be and coming back stronger.”

Abu Dhabi seems like a distant memory now, and its place a new, tougher test. Will Hamilton let his first season out of action in eight years define him?

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