What’s gone wrong for Lewis Hamilton in 2011?

2011 F1 season

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren, Montreal, 2011

Hamilton's tough 2011 season continued in Singapore

Lewis Hamilton has rarely had a season without the odd controversial collision and a few trips to see the stewards.

But this year there have been too many gaffes and too few of the top-drawer drives he is usually remembered for.

What’s gone wrong for the McLaren driver this year?


Hamilton’s father and former manager Anthony expressed a clear view about the root of his son’s problems in the aftermath of the Singapore race:

“You look up and down the pit lane and every driver, except for Lewis [Hamilton], has a driver-manager in his life, not people from a company.

“I am sure his management are very good ?ǣ I don?t know ?ǣ but Formula 1 drivers need people personally involved in the driver?s life because it is a big pressure. They have got to be here and I don?t think you can do the job by sending someone else.”

The elder Hamilton obviously has a vested interest in making such remarks. But we shouldn’t be quick to dismiss them – Hamilton enjoyed his greatest successes in Formula 1 under his father’s management.

Paul di Resta, Force India, Singapore, 2011

Anthony Hamilton now manages Paul di Resta

And his father’s new young charge, Paul di Resta, is clearly thriving, finished one place behind Hamilton in Singapore.

Hamilton is not the only driver without a conventional F1 management team. Sebastian Vettel doesn’t have one at all, and it clearly isn’t holding him back.

But you have to wonder why Hamilton specifically chose an entertainment company to represent him.

Hamilton has defended his right to pursue interests outside of Formula 1. Even so, it seems they are a more consuming part of his life than they are for his rivals at the sharp end of the grid.

Nor can it be said that his closest advisors have helped him handle his recent problems well: recall his notorious outburst at Monaco and his vanishing act last Sunday having failed to given an account of his latest blunder.


Jenson Button, McLaren, Montreal, 2011

Button celebrates victory in Canada

When Jenson Button joined McLaren at the beginning of last year, the widely-held view was that he was risking his reputation by joining ‘Hamilton’s team’.

Hamilton has never finished behind a team mate in the world championship. But Button has beaten him in all of the last four races. With five rounds to go he is 17 points ahead – a gap that would be far greater without his car problems in Britain and Germany.

Of course, Hamilton is no stranger to having a top-line driver in the other car. His F1 reputation was built on that stunning debut season alongside Fernando Alonso.

But while Hamilton has Button out-classed on Saturdays (10-4 this year, 13-6 last year), in the races it is increasingly a different matter.

As was expected before the season began, Button has usually been able to coax more life out of Pirelli’s soft rubber than Hamilton. This has clearly helped him in some races this year.

But there’s more to it than that. Like Hamilton, Button has had to make his way through the field at times this year, and has done so without falling into the traps his team mate has.


Lewis Hamilton, Mark Webber, Montreal, 2011

Button benefits as Hamilton hits Webber in Montreal

Whatever problem Hamilton is having, the result is a growing number of costly mistakes that have ruined his season.

While Button’s two retirements this year were caused by car problems, Hamilton’s were the result of crashes.

In Canada, a race he could have won, he had two collisions in the space of four laps – one with Mark Webber followed by terminal contact with his team mate. He was also in the hunt for victory at Spa before colliding with Kamui Kobayashi.

On top of that are the detail mistakes: the wrong tyres and the spin in Hungary, not putting a banker lap in during qualifying in Monaco and so on.

The result has been five race penalties, more than any other driver. He’s been punished for weaving in Malaysia (having been warned over exactly the same thing last year), two collisions in Monaco and another in Singapore, and that hasty spin-turn on the racing line in Hungary.

Felipe Massa, Lewis Hamilton, Singapore, 2011

Hamilton hit Massa in Singapore

Some have chosen to see this as evidence of the stewards being unduly harsh on Hamilton. I don’t buy that.

Yes, the decision three years ago to strip him of his deserved victory at Spa-Francorchamps was plain wrong and I said as much at the time. But in almost every other instance he’s deserved a penalty.

These kind of mistakes are not a new feature in Hamilton’s driving. Even in his championship year he had that notorious collision with Kimi R??ikk??nen in the Montreal pit lane, and copped another penalty in the following race by going off the track while passing Sebastian Vettel.

Completing this study of Hamilton’s F1 career in microcosm, the next race was the washout in Silverstone where he pole-axed the opposition, crossing the finishing line a minute before anyone else.

But of late the costly mistakes have far outweighed the command performances. Both his wins this year – in China and Germany – were from the top drawer. Those aside, there’s been little for Hamilton to cherish in 2011.

A single answer?

When trying to work out what’s going wrong between a driver’s brain and the steering wheel, it’s tempting to fall for single-line explanations: ‘his team mate’s rattled his cage’, ‘he can’t make the tyres work’.

The heart of the matter is rarely that simple or convenient. And there’s always much more going on beneath the surface than the glimpses on show at a race weekend.

At the end of last year Hamilton spoke of looking forward to a better season having put problems in his personal life behind him. Whatever he’s changed it doesn’t seem to have had the desired effect.

There are enough worrying signs around Hamilton to conclude that something fundamental is amiss here. Are we looking at a driver whose team mate is putting him under pressure, who can’t make his racing car behave the way he wants it to – and perhaps doesn’t care about it quite as much as he should?

Whatever the root of the problem is, it threatens to turn the career of a driver who produced one of the greatest rookie performances ever seen, into a case study in squandered potential.

2011 F1 season

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Images ?? McLaren, Force India/Sutton, McLaren, Red Bull/Getty images, Singapore GP/Sutton

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245 comments on What’s gone wrong for Lewis Hamilton in 2011?

  1. mclaren (@mclaren) said on 28th September 2011, 14:22

    Despite being an Alonso fan, i get no pleasure seeing hamilton on such a low. Whats happeing? In my opinion it is severe bad luck that is leading to and exaggerating his struggles:

    Singapore: Excellent start but then gets swamped into first corner due to him having to pull out of throttle.
    + Tyre puncture in Q2, Fuelling issues for second run in Q3 (From the sector times it is guaranteed he would have been a front row starter if not have challenged for pole, in first run he lost 2/10ths in middle sector to JB due to AlO being in close company, + he would have gained time from his tyres being up to temp compared with first run, to prove this, ALO gaines 7/10ths in his second run from tyres being up to temp).

    Monaco: Again in Q3 was guaranteed a front row start if not challenge for pole, and it being monaco starting 7th or whatever prevented him for challenging for victory causing him to get over aggressive and incidents etc.. which led to more Criticism post race.

    Monza: Mostly his own fault but again nothing going his way, getting stuck behind the rediculously fast Mercs of SCHUMI and thus not being able to challenge for victory.

    and the list goes on…….

    Overall, the bad luck he’s enduring currently is denting his confidence as he is recieving ever more criticism after pretty much every race.

    Hamilton is not just a world champion, he’s a potential all-time legend, and that’s why these wasted seasons provide such acute frustration for him.

    A man capable of humbling a mighty talent like Alonso in his rookie season, and winning the title in only his second year in the most heroic of fashion, delivering some of the finest wet-weather wins in F1 history along the way.

    His driving at the moment is not wild, it’s just a little rough at the edges.

    He hasn’t been endangering rivals with crazy swerves or zero-percentage moves, he’s just had a couple of races where he’s slightly misjudged where the extremities of his McLaren are, with costly consequences for his points tally.

    But if he really was the whirlwind of chaos his critics are claiming, there would be more than 16 points (barely a third place) between him and his apparently flawless and heroic team-mate Button – but there are not.

    Hamilton hasn’t lost the plot, hasn’t become a menace and isn’t being blitzed by Button.

    I again repeat, Hamilton is not just a world champion, he’s a potential all-time legend, capable of dominating this era with his sparkling talent.

    • mclaren (@mclaren) said on 28th September 2011, 14:28

      Sorry, i am a Hamilton fan, it was a typing error, true fans are those who stick by him in good, great, horrible, disastorous times. It angers me when i ask somone who do you support, reply is usually hamilton, yet they know nothing about the sport. Other online “fans” also disgust me, on a different forum, majority of people had hamilton avatars (pictures for their profile) and had names such as “Hami4ever” ect, and after the canadia GP, they all suddenly became JB fans, disgusting.

      The guys going through a rough phase, sooner or later his brilliance will bring and end to the whole issue of “What’s happeing to Lewis Hamilton”?

      • dirgegirl (@dirgegirl) said on 28th September 2011, 16:48

        Well, people do tend to end up at F1 Fanatic for the generally balanced views of the community.

        Being a “fan” is a pretty strange state of mind if you think about it. But nothing about being a “true fan” (whatever that is) precludes admitting that your hero makes mistakes, or acknowledging the successes and skills of others.

        “Alonso” for “Hamilton” though – that’s a big Freudian slip!

    • sebsronnie (@sebsronnie) said on 28th September 2011, 15:12

      I agree. I don’t see the need to over-analyze Hamilton’s season. He’s made mistakes, he’s won two races and he’s had bad luck a couple of times. It’s funny to see that no one even seems to remember he got a puncture on Saturday in Singapore in qualifying AND a fuel rig problem. Both incidents were not his fault (and they were not due to not having proper management or any of the numerous issues everyone is listing). But they left him heavily compromised for the race in terms of grid position (I have no doubt he’d have grabbed second if he’d had another run) and tyre strategy. As a result, we’re all here talking about what’s gone wrong with him. Nothing.
      As an aside, imagine it was Hamilton who’d ignored the blue flags for a whole lap (Kobayashi). How many comments and internet traffic would that have generated? I find the F1 community has an abnormally high level of interest in Lewis which leads to everything about him being scrutinized, praised, complained about etc way too much. That’s why Keith has published this article instead of one on the amazing performance of Vettel over the year or Webber’s inability to unlock the RB7’s potential

      • Marv-i-lo-so said on 28th September 2011, 16:42

        Please give “sebsronnie” comment of the day, the writers article was good but your comment was insightful! …the very points people keep over looking… the expectations on lewis from fans and none fans is so great that any minor error is blown up to !………

        love it all!….

  2. Prisoner Monkey said it well. Lewis has enormous talent and is the best overtaker in the sport currently. However, he appears to have a sense of entitlement, that other drivers should give way, and many wont. And finally, he doesnt seem to accept that it could be his fault.

  3. Forotherruns said on 28th September 2011, 14:56

    I think this is a good article by Keith but we need to look at the big picture.

    I go back to 2008. At the last race in Brazil, almost all the drivers were in support of Felipe Massa over Lewis, with some even being bold enough to say that they would do all the could to help Massa win the title (Alonso, Barichello).

    In 2008, apart from the nonsensical penalties that were handed down to him, I don’t think he had too many altercations with other drivers (apart from the brain fade that happened with Kimi). So, there was obviously some bitterness towards this young guy who came up, clashed infamously with Alonso in his first year (almost winning the championship), and was on his way to winning it the second year. There was a feeling that he had not gone through the ranks and as such, did not deserve to be in the position he was in.

    Also, Hamilton is pretty out of touch with the politics of F1 management (FIA) and even fellow drivers. Some of his statements tend to alienate him from other drivers (a typical example is when he did not acknowledge Button, his own team mate, as being one of the top 3 drivers). As such, some drivers (in particular Felipe Massa), will make it as difficult as possible when the McLaren of Hamilton comes up to overtake them.

    Another aspect we need to look at is the issue of collisions and blame. Mark Webber had a collision with Massa in Monza. Had this been Hamilton, an investigation would probably have come up and there would have been a lot of stuff being said about his mindset and how he keeps making mistakes. Also, if the positions were reversed in Canada, he would definitely have been investigated during the race and given a drive through penalty for RAMMING Button into the wall. This is not to say that Button deliberately rammed him into the wall but all of us armchair experts would have blamed him. Instead, all of us and the so called professionals found a way to twist it around to lay the blame at his feet for trying to pass his team mate. Picture the headline in your mind’s eye: “HAMILTON FORCES TEAM MATE INTO THE WALL AT CANADA”.

    Hamilton has become an easy target and the other drivers know this. As such, they will take risks with him (Schumacher, Monza 2011) knowing that if anything happens, he will definitely be the one to take the blame. This point is butressed by the fact that Massa feels that he needs to constantly remind the FIA to do their job of penalising Hamilton for every incident.

    Keith says that he performed a disappearing act instead fo responding to the Massa incident. After qualifying on Saturday, Massa accused Hamilton of not using his head. After the race and all the incidents, did he really think Hamilton would stop to discuss?? I think not. Incidents should not be taken in isolation if not a warped view will be produced.

    Finally, lets look at the radio communication during the race. Hamilton asked what he was racing for. It was interpreted as being a state of mind and how he seems to have lost zeal. However, I interpret it as being left alone by his race engineer. He should be giving encouragement and lap by lap information to his driver, giving him the big picture. It seems like the race engineer is a bit too cordial with Hamilton. He needs to be more deliberate, and where necessary, hard on him. A good example if Rob Smedley or Vettel’s Engineer in Canada 2010, telling him not to even think about setting a fastest lap.

    In conclusion, I agree with most of what Keith has said. He needs a new manager and someone he can really trust who will be in the background at McLaren looking out for his interests and his interests alone. That is a job that will be done best by his father. But in everything, we need to look at the big picture. He may have had the most penalties. Other drivers have also had incidents but the media does not blow them out of proportion. Imagine if Hamilton had done what Schumacher did in Singapore. Jackie Stewart would have been the first to say that he is endangering the lives of fellow drivers. If he had hit Massa at Monza, Massa would have been all over him for it. Unfortunately, he has created an impression about himself and he is not liked by most of the drivers.

    A combination of all this is what sums up his season and not just his mind management, his calmer and more clinical team mate or his aggression. That said however, above all, TALENT ALONE IS NOT ENOUGH.

    • Patrickl (@patrickl) said on 28th September 2011, 15:15

      I think the “easy target” is spot on. Brundle once said that Senna would put you in a position where you could either yield or crash. If you yielded he would know that you would do the same in the future.

      Whatever the position Hamilton has during an overtake (defending or attacking), he will be blamed for the incident. So the FIA has effectively put Hamilton on a permanent “yield”.

    • Perhaps a new career for Mark Webber as Hamiltons manager, he knows all about bad luck and frustration and how to handle it.

    • celeste (@celeste) said on 28th September 2011, 16:57

      Another aspect we need to look at is the issue of collisions and blame. Mark Webber had a collision with Massa in Monza. Had this been Hamilton, an investigation would probably have come up and there would have been a lot of stuff being said about his mindset and how he keeps making mistakes. Also, if the positions were reversed in Canada, he would definitely have been investigated during the race and given a drive through penalty for RAMMING Button into the wall. This is not to say that Button deliberately rammed him into the wall but all of us armchair experts would have blamed him. Instead, all of us and the so called professionals found a way to twist it around to lay the blame at his feet for trying to pass his team mate. Picture the headline in your mind’s eye: “HAMILTON FORCES TEAM MATE INTO THE WALL AT CANADA”.

      I think Button was handed a penalty for the Hamilton impact. And Webber admited that it was his fault inmediatly after crashing with Massa (that and the fact that it was Webber first impact of the year are factors to not getting that most attention).

      A good example if Rob Smedley or Vettel’s Engineer in Canada 2010, telling him not to even think about setting a fastest lap.

      I most said I love Rocky (Vettel´s engineer) almost as much as everybody loves Smedley

  4. It has not all been entirely his fault like you put it, Lewis has also had his fair share of screw ups from Mclaren, that should have been mentioned too. And I don’t think it has anything to do with Button’s performance, he was still doing the same mistakes even when he was ahead of Button in the points.

  5. Personally I think that LH is proving what I have thought for a handful of years now…I don’t think he can handle the pressure when it is at it’s greatest. He threw away a couple of WDC’s when they were his to lose, and when he won his WDC it was by a squeak and on that day FM did everything right when the pressure was at it’s greatest, and it took a ridiculously slow lap from another car to allow LH just a high enough position to rob FM of the WDC that he owned for half a lap. ie. the day LH won the WDC he did not stamp his authority on it.

    Now we see an LH with a competitive teammate and perhaps a lesser feeling that the team is all about him. So I think he is under pressure and when that is the case it falls apart for him. I think he will need another dominant package like SV has had this year in order to win another WDC. Without that ie. given a strong challenge for a WDC he will not keep it together if you go by his history.

  6. SupaSix-1 said on 28th September 2011, 16:41

    Sorry Keith but all this rubbish about ‘Lewis being rattled by his team mate’ is yet another load of baseless rubbish.

    Lewis was having his nightmares way before button was near him on points.
    In fact you can say that had Lewis been pressured from button then the chances are that Lewis wouldve played his races much more safer in order to secure the points to get ahead of button – you dont need a blackboard and chalk to work that out!
    The evidence all points to the fact that Lewis infact has not even worried about jenson.

    This rubbish about Lewis messing up due to the pressure from button is just yet another fairytale being concocted by the button media fan club who tend to despise Lewis.

    Theres no evidence or record of Lewis messing up because of button.

    Keith instead of following the pied-piper of sad media groups who want to keep poking Lewis with a stick…surely YOU can understand that yeh..ok Lewis has had a tough season but you know what…it happens to all sportsmen who sometimes have certain dips.

    Also why do you people keep conveniently forgetting that Lewis has been in F1 now for 5 years whereas the guys hes being compared to have been in F1 for around 11 years.

    Also please dont forget that button himself had his long period where he dissapointed and even messed up bigtime which resulted in him not being wanted by other teams – they all mainly wouldnt touch him with a barge-pole.
    -They all were given a chance to learn and develop…why cant you media groups also extend the same curtousy to Lewis?

    Im just shocked and appalled at this ‘vulture-mentality’ from the British media to keep jumping over Lewis’ back – as if they are trying to sour his career.
    -The guy is human..he like us all can make mistakes!

    -Just get off his back….and allow the boy to heal!

    If the media left him alone for a while instead of tearing shreds off him every week then I have no doubt that his recovery progress would be alot more quicker.

    I cant get over the double-standards over Lewis compared to all the other drivers – It seems like when its Lewis everything is magnified 10 times more.

    And one more important FACT: Jenson is only doing better because Lewis is in a big dip at the moment – which jenson and his media chums should be grateful off.
    Im sure its not difficult to beat a team mate only when that team mate is having a nightmare – its not something to be too proud off.

    ALSO one last thing:
    Throughout all the times Lewis has been in front of jenson and finishing the season (2010) in front – All the media groups were continuing to believe that at mclaren there is NO team leader – But now even before the season is even over the button-club all now suddenly start to believe that mclaren DO have a team leader – despite the continual claims from mclaren since 2010 that there is NO team leader as both drivers are equal – which the media believed when Lewis was infront – but when button is in front..they all suddenly change their minds.

    – How pathetic and ridiculous and totally sums up the overhype when it comes to jenson!!

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 28th September 2011, 17:33

      yeh..ok Lewis has had a tough season but you know what…it happens to all sportsmen who sometimes have certain dips.

      He’s a professional sportsman currently performing well below the level we all know he’s capable of. I don’t believe “it happens” is a convincing explanation.

  7. Commendatore (@commendatore) said on 28th September 2011, 16:47

    The remedy for Hamilton’s bad and dangerous driving this season was the 6 race ban Jean Todt proposed after the Monaco incident/scandal.

    If it was applied (the ban), most probably we wouldn’t have to witness these new amateur errors from a great natural talent like Hamilton.

  8. celeste (@celeste) said on 28th September 2011, 16:49

    I feel Lewis feeds of victorys, pole positions and accolades, he’s what John Watson described as a “hot rod”, who wants a fast car and wants to take it as fast as it can. When he doesn’t get it, he gets frustrated, commits errors, loses self confidence, doesn’t win, gets even more frustrated, commits even more errors….. ad infinitum. It’s an infinite loop that Lewis needs to get out of, by better mentality and self management.

    I think that you are correct, but I will said that young drivers are all the same.

    Teh worst time fir Vettel last year were after his car trouble at the beginning of the year. You could see he was desperate to gaing back the points that he has lost over this troubles. But I do think that RBR and his father, were better at supporting Sebastian at this time wich allowed him to gain momentum at the end of the year and win the WDC. Vettel has also gain a fair amount of adviser amount old school drivers, like Schumi, Marko, Lauda, Berger and even Bernie is at hand to give him advice.

    Hamilton has lost his support system. It must be really weird to talk with your dad about your troubles when you fired him. The Pussy Cat Doll his hardly a strong figure in his life (and I find so disturbing that they are together, but thats my problem). I also think taht the fact that Hamilton had a winning car sinc the start of his career didn´t give him time to mature and to know how to lose. Vettel spend time at Toro Rosso, Alonso was at Minardi and Button was in a lot of middle pack team.

    He will mature after this. Even when I´m not his biggest fan I can´t said that he will never win another tittle again.

  9. macca1977 (@) said on 28th September 2011, 16:57

    I don’t like Hamilton, never have and never will. For me one of the main reasons of his problems are the fact that he began his career in a top team. Not sure if there have been really succesfull drivers in F1 (more than one WDC) that have started their careers in a top team. And the reason is that you are spoiled from the get go, always expecting to be on pole and winning races and you get dissappointed and frustrated when things get wrong, specially with McLaren that are the most consistent top team on the grid.

  10. His problem? Doesn’t look around of him.

  11. I think this was a great article, I really enjoyed reading it.

    Let’s make no mistake, Lewis Hamilton is a massively talented individual, and by far one of the greatest Formula One drivers I’ve ever seen. Often I question: Why is he so good? When he makes mistakes like he has all too often this season, but I’m reminded why he’s one of the best with performances like China, Spain and Germany.

    I don’t know what it is. I don’t know if its the car, his racecraft, his management, his team mate or what. But if Hamilton is to go down as a great (which he should, due to his huge amount of talent) then he just needs to erradicate the mistakes, and go back to the way he was driving at the start of his career.

    He’ll be back. I might not like him, but you simply don’t lose talent. He’s proven that with China and Germany. Another title? Maybe. But things need to change, and we need to see the China’s and the Germany’s more often if he is to rank ahead of Vettel and Alonso.

    • lebesset said on 28th September 2011, 22:26

      he is easily the most talented since jim clark

      of course when clark started he was as old as hamilton is now , and I think fangio was about 40 when he became champion

      it is not only good wine that matures with age

      • I’m sorry, but I couldn’t disagree ore with your first point.

        So Lewis Hamilton is more talented than Michael Schumacher, Alain Prost, Nelson Piquet, Ayrton Senna, Mika Hakkinen, Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel? Maybe some of those, but without wanting to be rude, your point just isn’t right.

  12. Joey-Poey (@joey-poey) said on 28th September 2011, 17:07

    I’m honestly not as apocalyptic as most about Lewis’ situation. While I do agree he’s having a bad season, I don’t see this as career destroying yet. If he continues in this fashion, absolutely. McLaren won’t hold on to a penalty and crash prone driver for very long. But one bad season does not spell the end of a career. I think it would definitely be wise to get himself some kind of driver manager who has been around the block to help him focus. His mistakes, though sometimes mere millimeters from success and failure, can be diminished by training and temperament. Racing is an unpredictable beast so mistakes will happen regardless and Button has shown this. But as Keith pointed out, how one deals with the mistakes -not only on the track but off- is the clincher.

  13. lewis once said that he needs to be aggressive just because his car is not competitive enough… he said if he had a fast car like redbull he’d just cruise to victory! (just like what vettel does now)
    some drivers settle down with the fact that their car is good for a podium or even 4th or 5th but Hamilton is always aiming for the win, even if his car is not capable.

    Villenuve said “how can we know the limits if we don’t try to overcome them.” so i think (hope) lewis will enjoy a better season next year

  14. trophicip (@trophicip) said on 28th September 2011, 17:18

    Lewis just needs a faster car–one that can win consistently. It doesn’t have to be faster than everybody else’s, just as fast. Lewis does not like to finish second. He doesn’t drive for second and if he can’t win, either the race or the championship, he drives above the capability of the car resulting in these errors. If McLaren gives him a car as fast as the red bulls, he will win lots of races and championships.

  15. Im a massive Hamilton fan and everyone makes mistakes,But i think lewis has made more mistakes again this year again trying to make up for the under performing mclaren.
    If he had a car like redbull he too would only be making a hand full of overtakes like vettle or as jenson did in the first half of 2009 when brawn had the edge.
    As for all the tumbles with massa i think he is using Hamilton as an excuse for his under performance since his crash in the ferrari compared to how alonso is performing with the same car,A drive i think he knows he is about to lose and will probably not find another in a competitive car or any team!

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