The 2022 Formula 1 season did not go according to Lewis Hamilton’s script.
In the Hollywood version of his year, 2022 would have been his chance at redemption. Fueled by a sense of injustice since the title decider in Abu Dhabi last December, when a controversial race management decision saw him lose the championship to Max Verstappen on the last lap, he would have regained the crown this season.
No doubt there would have been some setbacks along the way, perhaps more controversy in the final race, but the end result would have been a record eighth world championship neatly bowed.
But Formula 1 does not follow the Hollywood script. By no means.
Unlike films where the protagonist invariably overcomes difficulties, a Formula 1 driver’s chances of success depend almost entirely on the performance of his car. And the harsh reality of 2022 is that despite eight straight years of title contention, Hamilton’s Mercedes car is simply not fast enough to challenge Verstappen’s Red Bull.
The drop in Mercedes’ performance from year to year can be attributed to a major change in the technical regulations during the winter, which moved the team down the ranks. As a result, Hamilton is currently sixth in the drivers’ standings, and with six races left this year, he’s already mathematically eliminated from the championship. The prospect of an eighth world title seems far off and for the first time in his F1 career there is a real danger that he will go an entire season without a race win.
Mercedes’ lack of performance was evident as soon as the car hit the track during pre-season testing in February, and by the fourth race of the year at Imola, Hamilton had already missed his chance at a title challenge. It didn’t take long for his comments to spark speculation about his future, and several viewers speculated that he might be using inefficiency as an easy excuse to retire.
Hamilton’s response came via an Instagram post shortly after Imola with an image caption that read: “Working on my masterpiece, I’ll be the one to decide when it’s finished.”
But as determined as Hamilton is to keep going, he has undoubtedly had to change his expectations this year. After eight consecutive seasons of appearing on the racetrack in the hope of winning, this year’s victories have almost always been out of reach.
So how did the seven-time world champion handle such a big change of mind?
“With great difficulty,” he replies frankly. “But I think it’s really about just sitting back and reflecting and figuring out what you can do better.
“As athletes we are very determined, we don’t like to lose, we don’t like to fail – failure is not an option. But sometimes you have to, and that’s part of the process.
“It’s about how you don’t beat yourself up, it’s about how you take it, put it on your back and use it as an experience to move forward.
“But it’s not easy. It may take you one day, it may take you five minutes, it may take you several days.”
Hamilton says he has drawn inspiration from other sports megastars in the past year. He cites his friendships with Serena Williams and Tom Brady as a source of motivation, and as athletes of the same age at the same stage in their careers, he found common ground in his conversations with them.
“I draw inspiration from other athletes, like Serena,” he says. “Seeing everything she went through and the hardships and the conversations and the way she got through it and pulled herself together and the great performances – she’s just such a warrior and she’s my inspiration right now.
“I remember being at home with my dad watching her destroy him around 1999. Definitely, at that time I never thought that we would be as close as we are now.
“And as for Tom, I was at the Super Bowl and I saw him come in for holding his head in his hands when they lose and then back off with incredible fortitude. Besides, he’s an older jock and he’s killing him right now. so I’m like, I want what you have! Everyone has something to learn.
“I always hoped that one day we would be able to communicate with each other, so it’s very surreal to sit with Tom and talk to each other on the same wavelength – it’s very, very, very surreal, very cool. “
But for Hamilton to return to victory, he must rely heavily on his team to improve his car. No matter how hard he trains or how flawlessly he drives, he won’t fight for titles without a car that’s at least half a second faster on a lap. It is a fact that he cannot escape, but which he uses to guide and motivate his own interactions with his engineers.
“We would like to be in this fight fighting [for the title]and I wish all the cars were much closer and we all had a much better battle closer to the front,” he says. “I wish there was only a tenth of a second between all of us, you know?
“But this is not our sport. So I’m not worried about it – I can’t control it at the moment. I just focus on what I can and try to do better with what we have. there is.
“What worries me is what keeps me awake at night: what am I missing? Who do I need to talk to on the track? How can I support my engineers? next car choice?
“When I damage a car, I take money out of the budget and I think: “Oh my God! Do not do that!” And that’s really what I’m focused on, and I hope that when we return next February, the car will touch the ground and do what we hope for.
Not having full control over when his next victory comes may seem disappointing, but Hamilton says teamwork is part of the attraction. What’s more, Mercedes has won him six of the seven world titles in his career, and he’s confident they’ll do it again.
“I follow other sports and want it to be all about my ability, but in Formula 1 the ability of so many people comes together,” he says. “Communication, scope of work, processes determine the direction in which you will move.
“It’s like we were all rowing a boat and while we had Toto [Wolff, team principal] above the steering mechanism, we, as drivers, are also part of the pivot that guides it in the right direction.
“It’s definitely hard, but it should never be an excuse, it takes work and I really wouldn’t want it any other way. Honestly, if it was easy and every day was easy and you just get through it, it just wouldn’t be a problem.
“I like to work with everyone and challenge people and they challenge me. This year, I admit that we haven’t done a great job, but that doesn’t mean we won’t be able to do a great job in the future. We’ve done this in the past.”
However, the big question remains: How long will it take Mercedes to get back to winning?
Hamilton’s current contract expires at the end of next season and there are already rumors about who will replace him if he retires. But he says the challenge of bringing Mercedes back to the top of the grid could keep him in F1 for even longer than he originally intended.
“Definitely, because it will take more than a year than [to get back to the front of the grid]”, he says. “I think if we had just won the title last year and then won again this year, definitely life would be in a different place and I would be on a different course.
“I love that he went through an even more difficult phase and we have to get through this tough tiring period and get to the point where we are a little lighter and we swim a little more. So yes, I would say that it motivated me to stay longer.
“Besides, I feel fit, I find ways to feel better physically. The psychological challenge is a constant thing, and it will always be, because this is something that concerns us athletes, because we are on the verge.
“But now where I am in life, I am very grateful for the opportunity that I have here. I like to think that I still deserve a place here. And yes, I have a lot of work to do.”