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?

Management

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.

Button

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.

Mistakes

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. This is no mystery to me (although I could be entirely wrong). His head and hands, figuratively speaking, have lost the right level of coordination. He was on the rise with the skill and the ride, the sky was the limit. He obviously planned to capitalize on the F1 success, which he apparently took a bit for granted. His focus and commitment were defused some, and then… Vettel.

    I think LH has been blindsided by this totally unanticipated level of competition, and it came when his head is less in the game than before. The result? Flailing. Desperation. 11/10ths. A messy 2011.

  2. David BR (@david-br) said on 28th September 2011, 17:55

    Great article. I think there’s one major element missing though: Vettel. I really don’t think Hamilton would be quite as thrown out this season if he wasn’t seeing a younger driver already eclipse his own success in Formula 1. After 2008 Hamilton seemed the one set to break the records. That’s completely reversed and he’s clearly trying to deal with the frustration over the McLaren not matching Vettel’s Red Bull while seeing the latter driver ‘in his place.’

    I’d say Vettel and the extra-Formula 1 stuff, big problem and big escape route that fails to address the problem.

  3. Hallard (@hallard) said on 28th September 2011, 18:08

    Dear Lewis Hamilton-

    You seem to be in a bit of a funk lately. In the last 4 races, you’ve started from the front row 3 times, yet you havent stood on the podium once. Even your peerless performance at the Nurburgring seems so far in the past now. Fear not though, for I have a comprehensive plan that will return you to your winning ways, post-haste!

    1) Ditch your management company in favor of someone who is more concerned with your success as a driver than a global marketing brand.

    2) Dump your girlfriend. Her and her pop star friends seem to be a disastrous influence on your ego. Let her know that she can call me if she is too emotionally distraught after the break-up.

    3) Take some time to hone your driving skill and precision in some unorthodox ways. Im envisioning a full rock-montage here in which you pilot an 18-wheeler through back-country Louisiana, drive bumper cars at a carnival and avoid hitting anyone, race radio-controlled cars against a pack of schoolchildren, and sit in for one of McLaren’s forklift drivers back at the factory. These are just suggestions, of course, so feel free to get creative.

    4) Refrain from ridiculing the race stewards for their affinity to penalize you. It isnt helping. In fact, you might want to avoid using the word “steward” altogether, or any variation of it, to help break this habit. For example, if you find yourself on an airplane needing to take the edge off after another crushing defeat at the hands of you-know-who, beckon the lady toting the drink cart using the anachronistic term “sky-waitress”, rather than “stewardess”.

    5) This one is as easy as it is important. Every day, thank that an organization with the deep pockets and technical prowess of McLaren has invested so much in you. Recognize how privileged you are, and treat your team personnel accordingly. You need McLaren more than they need you.

    Follow these steps and you’ll be well on your way (back) to the top! You can do it.

    Sincerely,
    A concerned fan

  4. MGriffin90 (@mgriffin90) said on 28th September 2011, 18:30

    I think Lewis’ big problem is not himself, his mistakes or his personal life. It’s McLaren.

    He’s become so used to succeeding with McLaren, excelling at the very highest level that when he isn’t doing that, it seems to fall apart. He has days where the car works, he works correctly and everything syncs together. Take his win at the Nurburgring for example.

    Then he has times where something unfortunate happens, and a chain reaction begins, and ends with Hamilton crashing out, crashing into somebody or both. Take Singapore, the team didn’t have enough time to refill the car for a final run in Q3, which left Hamilton in fifth and with it all to do. He had to go brave to pass Webber at turn one but backed out of it (sensibly) but then fell down the order.

    He had to charge through the field but that is where he fell into trouble.

    When it starts to go wrong for Lewis, it keeps going wrong until it climaxes into something bigger, like a crash.

    I feel Lewis needs to move on from McLaren, into unfamiliar surroundings, to a team where things have not gone right for a while, where inspiration from a talent like Hamilton is needed, to relight the fire that burned so strong for so long and made the team a force to be reckoned with.

    Lewis needs to go to…Williams. Rebuild the team around him and only him, dictate how the team should design the car, build it, test it and race. it.

    Basically, Lewis needs to do a Schumacher. Take a team that has fallen from grace and turn it back into a powerhouse within motorsport.

    Then he’ll earn many more world titles and take the place in the “hall of fame” that I feel he so rightly deserves.

    If he doesn’t, he’ll be like a significantly more talented version of Jacques Villeneuve. Epic début season, title win the next, never won the title ever again. Someone of his talent really does not deserve an outcome like that.

    That and I’d love to see how a Hamilton/Maldonado partnership would get on after the incident at Spa. :)

  5. djdaveyp87 said on 28th September 2011, 18:54

    Lewis has been disappointing to say the least, but I still remains a passionate fan. I think Lewis has had it too easy in F1 and came straight into a championship winning car (potentially). Due to the fact he’s won almost everything on the way up to f1, I just feel he isn’t experienced at being further back the grid! I am running out of excuses for him though. I really hope things improve for him.

  6. Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 28th September 2011, 19:22

    Is he just pushing that one bit too far? trying to force results that can’t be had? It’s no coincidence that these incidents have come from climbing through the field and/or after setbacks.

    Whatever the reason though, I confess myself disappointed. Regardless of thinking stewarding has been far too harsh (on all drivers) this year, the fact remains that that’s how it is and Hamilton refuses to play the game.

    Maybe he should come out in an act of self-humbling, say he’ll be #2 to Button to learn from him how to be a more complete driver, a better driver and champion – and ignore that a younger driver is adopting the mantle many told him he would claim instead.

    Lewis is a world champion and has won more races than most F1 drivers. he has nothing to prove to his doubters of his ability. He has everything to prove to us, his fans though and it’s not a nice feeling to see him throwing away what he could be. He doesn’t seem any different to how he was when he started, as if he’s not bothering to learn anything about things like strategy, which is not a good thing when McLaren seem to find new highs of woefulness in that department.

    As a supporter of the “boy who done good” in his early F1 career I will always hope he will do it all over again and fulfil his potential. As a fan though, I have to be honest, it seems like as the weekends go by there are less and less reasons to stay one.

    • mattr said on 1st October 2011, 10:31

      people like you make me laugh.
      dont you understand ppl dont want lewis to be like button?and lewis could still finish the season ahead of button on points.if he drives anywhere near his best in the final 5 races he will do.
      further more buttons smooth driving hasnt won him the championship has it?lewis just needs to get back to his best,he doesnt need to learn anything from button.he just needs to learn from his mistakes.

  7. I think Lewis has been unable to think long-term – of the championship.

    He always thinks of each race separately and doesn’t take into account the larger picture. This is something Vettel in 2011, Button in 2009, Alonso in 2010 have done very well.

    The drivers know when they are on the backfoot and go about quietly collecting points in such cases. Hamilton has an all-or-nothing attitude no matter how fast his car is, no matter what is his position in the championship.

    The 2 best phases of Hamilton’s career according to me are – first half of 2007 and first half of 2010. He was sublime, error-free and believed in being consistent.

    And the only way he is gonna be able to think long-term if he gets a better manager – I do agree with his father. The lifestyle outside of paddock plays a large role in shaping one’s mentality. He needs to go back to his dad.

    Hamilton is talented no doubt, he will be on top of Button in the standings in no time. But will he sustain it? Only when he values patience. Alonso learnt this virtue the hard way by getting axed from Mclaren and spending 2 years in wilderness. But now he knows. Now, its Lewis’s turn to learn this art.

  8. Little to cherish? A “case study” Sorry, I find this a bit over the top. My opinion. And I base it on the following facts.

    Here is the form guide form this site:
    Lewis Hamilton Jenson Button
    Qualified ahead 10 4
    Average qualifying gap -0.245s –
    Finished race ahead 5 5
    Laps spent ahead 408 298

    He trails Button in points. Last year, and some points Hamilton was ahead of Button in points, sometimes the otherway around. Indeed, both led the points for substantial periods. Hamilton made his mistakes last year, many many of them, but came out ahead in the end, and was widely heralded for his work last year, even here. Now, the hounds are loose.

    This collection of vague digs and unfalsifiable conjectures about “outside interests,” etc., does not add up. What does Paul Di Resta’s work under Hamilton’s former manger mean? I think it means Paul Di Resta is a good driver. What should I conclude about an “entertainment” company representing him—that he want’s to join the circus? And flood of innuendo does not establish anything but a keen interest in a conclusion.

    Yes, I get how this is to operate. Now that Hamilton is officially on parole, every time he spins, locks up, whatever, it means that we put the microscope up his backside until we can see Rihanna and Pharrel.

    Here is a single answer. It is the one given by Hamilton himself yesterday: right now, Jenson Button is doing a better job. But then again, what does he know.

  9. Sean Newman said on 28th September 2011, 21:00

    Hamilton has lost out this season in two ways, speed and confidence. The reason? I thinks it’s all down to those Pirelli tyres.

    Hamilton can’t drive at 90% which these tyres sometimes require. As a result he’s been on the back foot and his confidence has suffered. His style is 100% attack 100% of the time. All of his success is built on that and this season he can’t do it.

    I’m sorry to say he seems a bit one dimensional and lacks the intelligence that Button obviously has in spades.

    If the tyres get more durable he will win again regularly if they don’t he will not.

    • tharris19 (@tharris19) said on 28th September 2011, 22:04

      Smooth, quick, intelligent, all accurately describe Button, yet, he could easily end the season behind Lewis. He still can’t out qualify him to get in position to win races. Lewis is still the quicker driver.

      Where is the button that converts intelligence into real speed when it’s needed. When a car is not quick drivers don’t ask for more intelligence they want speed so they can race. Lewis will continue to be himself and that’s fine.

      • lebesset said on 28th September 2011, 22:31

        button has 2 DNF not his fault and lost 20/30 points ; hamilton has not ,so certainly should finish ahead of him

        • mattr said on 1st October 2011, 10:36

          lewis has 2 dnfs too.and last season lewis got 4 dnfs,button only 2,yet lewis still finished the season with 26 more points.

  10. Shrieker (@shrieker) said on 28th September 2011, 21:23

    This is so simple. His mind was always at beating Vettel (cause that’s what you need to do to win the title) even when he was down in 4th 5th 6th (etc.) in race, and hasty decisions to rescue the situation often went wrong. Give him a car who is touching distance with the Bull and he’ll win it. Lewis has never changed.

  11. Err Bob said on 28th September 2011, 21:23

    Dont know if this link has been posted but it made a lot of sense.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/formula_one/15066906.stm

  12. Don’t change Hamilton, there’s nothing wrong with your driving. We don’t want 24 Buttons on track, as good as they are I’m sure.

    Well, I guess I’m in the minority. But please explain why Schumacher only gets a reprimand at Singapore and perhaps I’ll calm down a bit.

    I’m biased and this is my opinion. He’s dumb, but he’s not reckless as some (many) people claim.

  13. lewis rocks said on 28th September 2011, 21:39

    if you ask me its probably more to do with the lack of his fathers support more than his managers only keith is too polite to say that

    I don’t think jensons got anything to do with, after all he beats him every saturday with the exception of when he has problems

    the biggest issue is he’s frustrated the mclaren isn’t quite good enogh

    i’d bet a grand you put him in a car capable of winning and he’ll be straight back to his awsome ways

    I just hope it happens next year as watching him crash out of every other race is really starting to ”wee” me off!

  14. judo chop (@judo-chop) said on 28th September 2011, 22:07

    The biggest performance change has come from the Pirelli’s shoddy tires bringing lots of unpredicability to team’s race performance. Pundits trot out the same cliches about Hamilton been hard and Button easy on tires but the fact is that the teams’ struggles to get a measure of tire performance has made a lottery of a lot of set-up and race tactic work – up and down the grid. This effects everyone but the point being is that it makes races more susceptible to pitwall errors.

    Regarding his own errors Hamilton’s been no worse than Schumacher or Webber this season. What errors he commits simply get highlighted more because every egotisctical attention-whore wants a piece of him, Mansell, Lauda, Stewart etc. Put a negative spin on whatever happened, paint him as the devil and then pontificate in the accompanying spotlight. The same with drivers – Massa and Maldano – who want to distract from their own issues.
    Despite that – and Button’s points lead – Hamilton’s 6 front row’s to Button’s 1 show who’s been really trying to take the fight to Red Bull.

    • While Hamilton has been pretty poor this year, he doesn’t deserve the amount of stick he’s been getting.

      He’s also taking being beaten by his team mate quite graciously (in public at least)… but he doesn’t get much credit for it.

      I wonder if Hamilton had swiped across Maldonado at Spa (imagine the roles reversed) how many would be calling for a year ban or a similar punishment?

      There’s no doubt Hamilton is often in need of a few more brain cells perhaps, but it’s just so over the top it’s ridiculous.

  15. Why would you bring up Spa 3 years ago? It’s not relevant to the conversation now. Your opinion of it is plain wrong in my opinion and I said so at the time. I’ve seen the exact same thing dealt with in the same way in other formulae. It just seems like you can’t deal with the fact that’s how it is, and you keep bringing it up to try and change everyone else’s opinion to match yours – it does you a disservice.

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