Written by Apostolos Papageorgiou, Edited by Leah Brown
Lewis Hamilton is a man that needs no introduction, both on and off the track, and there is no denying he is one of, if not the greatest driver the sport has seen. This year however, things are different. Mercedes’ dominance has been halted by new regulations and Hamilton’s new teammate, the young and promising George Russell, so far appears to be coping better with the changes and the team’s performance dip. In the last few races though, things have taken a turn for the better for Sir Lewis, with three-consecutive podium appearances, signaling a return of the Hamilton of old. But before we talk about the present, it’s important to take a look and see how his season has been up to this point.
The first race of the season, at Bahrain, went better than both Hamilton and Mercedes could’ve hoped for. Having the third-fastest car at best, Hamilton spent most of the race in a lonely fifth place, one ahead of teammate Russell, until a late double retirement for Red Bull elevated him to the podium in third. Luck wouldn’t be on his side for the next race in Saudi Arabia however. Starting 16th, after a shocking Q1 exit, Hamilton worked his way up to sixth but had to make a badly timed pitstop, thanks to pitlane being closed, and eventually crossed the line in 10th. Hamilton was on course for another podium in Australia when another untimely safety car helped Russell get the jump on him. While the seven-time champion was faster, mechanical problems meant he ultimately settled for fourth.
Imola was a weekend to forget all together. Knocked out of Q2 in qualifying thanks to the rain coming down, Hamilton failed to make any progress on Sunday, stuck behind slower cars and finishing in a disappointing 13th. Things were again looking up in Miami, with Hamilton making a late-race pass on Valtteri Bottas to secure sixth, though he was again beaten by his teammate thanks to another badly timed safety car. Spain was the first event where Hamilton looked truly comfortable in the W13. Despite a first-lap collision that left him in last place, he made his way up to fourth, only to be told he had to slow down and conserve fuel, losing a place to Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz in the process.
Monaco and Baku were similar, with Hamilton stuck in the midfield for the bulk of the race and losing time to teammate Russell, which he ultimately couldn’t get back. At Monaco in particular, he spent the last half of the race stuck behind Fernando Alonso in a slower Alpine. Canada, the ninth race of the season, marked Hamilton’s first return to the podium since Bahrain, with Mercedes cementing themselves as the third-fastest team on the grid. Another podium at his home race at Silverstone was a great achievement, although it could have been a win had it not been for a fourth badly timed safety car. Finally, at Austria, Hamilton recovered from a crash in qualifying on Friday to finish third in Sunday's race, battling through the midfield in the process.
The question remains: Is Hamilton performing like he used to? And if yes, why did it take him so long to do so? Credit must go to Mercedes for working tirelessly to improve the problematic W13 and make it competitive. Hamilton played a part in that, continuously testing experimental setups that cost him chunks of performance. Of course, luck has played its part, in the form of race DNFs (Did Not Finish) for Ferrari and Red Bull, but let’s not forget how many times Hamilton has been screwed by safety cars or lap-one crashes this year.
So is the answer to the question “yes”? Well, not exactly. Despite three podiums, Hamilton’s qualifying pace still seems to be lacking. As a result, this leaves him fighting slower cars during the race, all the while losing time to his teammate. Speaking of Russell, he is proving quite a match for the seven-time champion, often outpacing him on Saturday and occasionally on race day. Nevertheless, it appears Hamilton is at a much better state than at the start of the year and is slowly, but surely, becoming a threat to the frontrunners. Who knows, maybe his first win of the year isn’t that far away after all.