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. awadgeorge_ (@awadgeorge_) said on 28th September 2011, 22:31

    The problem with Lewis is pressure, he can drive perfectly until there is pressure involved.

    In 2007 he drove beautiful until the tittle was nearing its end, then he could not cope with the pressure and lost in the end a huge lead to Kimi and almost to alonso. He did this by doing silly mistakes.

    China 2007 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZOIxQP5PUSM

    Brazil 2007 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m6kiPFOpFTM

    2008

    Canada http://www.youtube.com/watch? v=xnCsG0DlXkU&feature=related

    Fuji http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nl5aMMRgTEk

    Plus he almost lost the title in brazil again when vettel overtook him in a toro roso

    In 2009
    Monza http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nr9LUtu6fx4

    the list goes on and on

  2. RumFRESH (@rumfresh) said on 28th September 2011, 23:03

    In a way it’s good to see Jenson getting the respect he deserves. I feel like when Lewis came on the scene in 2007, he commanded a lot of attention for being a phenomenal British driver when there was one present all along in Jenson. Button just spent too much time at Honda. I admire the loyalty Jenson had but at the same time he could have accomplished much more in a more competitive team.

  3. Guys seriuosly, the guy is just having a hard time. There’s still 125 points to win. Lewis will bounce back and put Button way behind him. By then people will ignore the accidents etc and talk about Lewis the teamleader.

    Let’s put things in perspective: Button is driving the best of his career, while Lewis worst of his. And the difference is just 17 points…

    • gwenouille (@gwenouille) said on 29th September 2011, 11:06

      Errr, the whole point of the thread is to find out why. We know he is having a hard time, thank you.
      The difference is not “just” 17 points. JB has twice as many podiums, and still suffered 2 mechanical DNFs.

      I find it hard to grasp that people still think that in the next races “JB will show us how bad he really is” or “LH will thrash JB” or “LH will put JB WAY behind him”. None of this things have happened yet, certainly not this year

      LH may well catch JB, he may well finish ahead in the points, but come on, stop pretend he is 25× better than JB

    • icemangrins (@icemangrins) said on 29th September 2011, 13:51

      There’s still 125 points to win. Lewis will bounce back and put Button way behind him

      Seriously, I can’t wait to see Lewis back on top.

  4. The decisive problem for Hamilton was and is, simply put, that he wants to be the “new Ayrton Senna”. That is fairly obvious from his comments to the media (special focus on the 2008 Monaco Grand Prix) and other things such as his helmet design.

    The major problem with that is, aside from the obvious aspect that no modern race car driver should have Senna’s (on-track) behaviour as a role model, that it is just not possible for Hamilton or any other driver to actually reduplicate Senna’s style in modern Formula 1 for a number of reasons, up to and including noticeable reduced performance differences between the cars.

    So, Hamilton will not recover from this slump any time soon unless he scratches the whole Senna thing – start with a new helmet and go up to reducing the reckless behaviour on the track.

  5. I hope and i am sure Lewis will answer all his critics and unreasonable bashers(remember some top pundits saying Lewis would kill someone) on track. Maybe that is why he chose to ignore commenting on Massa’s incident and also before that on MSC’s incident.

    All he needs is a good qualifying position(Lewis often gets 2nd as Pole has been impossible this year, so no problem there) and a good start. I am sure he will win at least 1 more race this year. RBR will not develop the RB7 too much now as they have almost won both championships. Ferrari also will not develop their car so good chance for Mclaren and especially Lewis to end the year strongly with few wins.

    Offcourse that is what i think and given few reasons, it could very well be that at next race at Japan RBR takes pole by the biggest margin so far this year.

    All in all Hamilton needs a change of luck and company of top drivers at the starting grid and also while coming out of pits so that he doesn’t have to pass Massa-like, MSC-like drivers. So qualify top 3 and a good start = No problems. Good luck Hamilton.

  6. Wooolfy said on 29th September 2011, 4:48

    AM made the best comment so far and it’s a fact.

    Let’s put things in perspective: Button is driving the best of his career, while Lewis worst of his. And the difference is just 17 points…

    The problem I believe is, Lewis has overcompensated this year and with bad luck(not his fault) has turned out his worst year to date, mind you only 5th so far. For any other driver that isn’t bad. He’s being measured with a different yard stick as evidenced by the overwelming number of haters and yet he’s still favoured to win at almost every round.

    Vettel overtake on Alonso was risky but suddenly, even Bernie thinks that he had no weakness in overtaking meanwhile LH does many more awesome overtakes and when some go bad, the world cries.

    It’s time the public be fair and less biased against him as he’s well within the top 5 and will win again.

    Keith, who’s got the most overtakes this year? Any bet it’s the McLaren drivers 1-2.

  7. If Hamilton had a better car he wouldn’t need to take the risks and we would see a different driver, I don’t think we’d be having this conversation.

    Sadly, I fear Mclaren will struggle again at the beginning of next year. They keep making car that are based on elements of the car that keep getting banned so never have base from the previous you to develop from.
    2010 – 2011, F-duct and massive DD. Banned
    2011 – 2012, Extremely reliant on the OTBD. Banned
    It will be interesting to see what they do over the winter.

    • Keith, it would be interesting to know the history of other teams getting consistently screwed by rule changes in the way Mclaren have been unlucky lately.

      Who else has had to keep starting from the ground up for more than 2 sessions in a row?

      • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 29th September 2011, 9:09

        I don’t know what you mean – the rules are the same for everyone.

        • I never said they weren’t.

          Mclaren are being a bit unlucky that the design path / innovation gets banned in a season (the design concept the whole car is based around), yes it is the same for everyone (but they are one with different design concepts i.e not following RBR or trying too, at least Ferrari didn’t do that with pullrod suspension I suppose) They seem to be the only ones, by misfortune that are having to start from scratch every season for the last three years.

          It happened to Tyrrell and Williams in the past, but I’m struggling to remember it happening to anyone more recently.

  8. antonyob (@antonyob) said on 29th September 2011, 10:14

    I think it is easily forgotten that in the history of F1 the WDC has been won by consistent drivers more than outrageously gifted ones.

    Lewis probably shares more with Gilles Villeneuver than he does his hero Senna. GV was a man of extravagant mercurial talents, but unable to win a WDC, for many reasons but an inability to bring a car home was one of them. It seems to be the way in any sport, the more extravagant the gifts the less consistent they can be. There are exceptions but they are exactly that.

    The miracle is that a man of Lewis’ driving style has won the WDC at all. We should enjoy what he is, not criticise what he isnt.

    There are plenty of nine tenths drivers, precious few ten tenths. I for one am glad he is around at all.

  9. Brian Johnson (@brian-johnson) said on 29th September 2011, 10:18

    I think that Lewis is simply fantastic,when he goes up for a move i think that everybody is excited because you know he is fantastic.The problem is his car is not that good,he is very unlucky and things are just not going for him.But he will be back next year,and i hope that Lewis or Jenson win the title.Oh and i would love to see Ron Dennis as the team principal again.I just don’t think Martin Withmarsh is up to the task.

  10. Schumi the Greatest (@schumi-the-greatest) said on 29th September 2011, 10:22

    I apologise in advance for the LONG, LONG post and for any points i may be repeating from other peoples posts but here’s my take on it.

    First of all i am a huge fan of lewis and i think its fair to say Hamilton is 1 of the most gifted drivers of the last 20 years. He has superb car control and over a single lap i think its very close between him and vettel. Hamilton has often qualified the mclaren in places it should not be. He has produced some outstanding drives in his short career e.g Canada 07, Fuji 07, Silverstone 08, China 08, China and Nurburgring this year.

    I agree with keith, there isnt 1 thing here thats causing the problem its the culmination of factors creating 1 big problem. I have listed what i believe the problems are below:

    1: Aggressive Driving Style – There’s no doubt its great to watch, seeing a lewis qualifying lap on board is a great thing when hes throwing the car into corners and the back end is flying about. In the races he tends to overtake more than any other driver but these past 2 seasons he’s been trying moves that were not maybe necessary. Schumacher was as aggressive as anything else seen in f1 but he knew when to pull out of a move, hamilton doesnt seem to be learning that sometimes he has to tuck back in and wait for the next opportunity.

    2: Management – In fairness to hamilton, yes he has every right to pursue interests outside of f1 but if his career goes downhill the opportunities in the entertainment arena wont be there for him to take anyway. He needs his father back by him and to concentrate on racing and maximising his talent.

    3: Short Sighted – Where hamilton falls short to Button is his inability to look at the bigger picture it seems. Hamilton would rather go off chasing 1st place than finnish second, you wont win championships like that..

    4: Perceived image of himself – Everyone knows hamilton’s hero was senna. Personally i dont think the problem is he sees himself as the next senna (i dont think he thinks that anyway) i think its more that he believes he can be 1 of the all time greats of f1 and that leads him to believing he has to try and win every single race, hes in only his 5th season he has potentially another 10+ years yet so he needs to take his time a bit more and drive for the maximum result rather than trying to push his car to places it cant go. thats what leads to mistakes.

    Thats the main problems in my opinion, i do believe however he will sort them out. There is no doubt he’s frustrated that bar 07/08 hes never had the car that could go to every race with the potential to win. Since then hes been trying to compensate for the lack of performance within his car from himself. If hamilton had a red bull i have no doubt he would be producing similar results to vettel right now.

    I hope mclaren can produce a car as good as a the red bull next year (lewis needs to make sure his input is put onto the design too to bring it more to his driving style) and then im sure many wins will follow.

    I think this is more of a phase, give hamilton a championship winning car and he will deliver and in my mind he will go on to be the most successful british driver of all time.

  11. Hamilton has a problem when he is out of position.
    He knows he can go faster and can’t wait.
    I do think the opposition knows he is so aggressive and will take adventage of it.

    He needs to do a better job then what he is doing.
    But I still believe he is the biggest talent in F1 today.
    Put him in the fastest car (like vettel atm). And he will dominate like all the big names in history have managed. I don’t think he ever had the fastest car in F1, except maybe 2007.

  12. Lewis does not need Simon Fuller as his manager, it’s certainly not doing him any good at all. Maybe he’s been partying too much hence the lack of concentration. F1 is a very sharp edged sport, a flick in losing focus and that’s it.

    As for his style of driving I don’t see any difference, still aggressive but too many mistakes, not the 2007 Lewis at all. If Lewis is wise he should reinstate his father. Look at DiResta he’s doing fine.

    Forget the pop world Lewis, stick to racing and you’ll still make tons of money.

  13. Hamilton has been controversial throughout his F1 career and indeed before.

    Massa say’s “he doesn’t learn” and from 2007 that’s been demonstrated time and time again, unfortunately LH seems destined to repeat the same errors ad infinitum.

    He’s increasing and rightly criticised as was Schumacher but at least ‘Shue’ had a plan and was calculating, Hamilton abjectly fails to see beyond the moment putting either his car or both feet straight in.

    While unsuccessful efforts have been made over the last 5-years, the reality is no amount of management has contained his excesses.

    One surmises the problem is in Hamilton’s head and nowhere else, and while one can ask who it was that shaped that personality, it’s probably far too late to do very much about it.

    Will the ‘Hamilton Effect” dissuade rival teams from signing him at any point, based on his behaviour and indeed achievements to date it seems that may be true for all the top team’s.

  14. I think Hamilton’s problem is incredibly simple: He obvisouly believes that he is in a class of his own and that none of the other drivers on track share his abilities. Coupled with his dubious off-track persona, means that he has become increasingly arrogant.

    Being beaten on the track means that he is over-driving by trying to force his way past opponents that he considers to be less talented than him.

    I really think McLaren should drop Hamilton and put Di Resta in his car. That would be a formidable driver pairing.

    • icemangrins (@icemangrins) said on 29th September 2011, 14:53

      Every driver who has the past history of learning/honing their skills because of karting exhibited similar attributes. They have those peculiar killer instincts to beat the opposition. Lewis of the same kind following Senna, Schumi, Mika…..

      His mistakes are nothing to do with arrogance. I would go with the word aggressive and the attack; attack at all times mindset. Everyone was impressed when he made the overtaking move on JB @ Shanghai 2011. That was classic Lewis who wouldn’t hesitate to go for the gap. If it were Feliple or Schumi [oh no, it hurts :-( ] in JB’s place, it would have been a different discussion. Every incident that Lewis was involved in this year….not all of them were down to his own mistake. Whatever he learned when he was a kid; he carries the same passion while driving an F1 car. That’s the way he is & that’s the way he is going to stay. I never seen him deliberately muscle past a slow car. Many of the posts here state he started his career in McLaren & that he is spoiled rotten – one reason for his arrogance. By the way, only few of us believe him genuinely deserved to be in that position – his road to that seat wasn’t easy, was it? He is a onetime WDC… expecting & demanding a competitive car to fight at the front. What’s wrong with that? Also, he doesn’t make too many mistakes under pressure….. and if we see his GP2 career, he was respected for this immaculate skill.

      Why do we even attack his personaility by talking about his off track life?

  15. Hotbottoms (@hotbottoms) said on 29th September 2011, 12:18

    Ever since I started following this site in 2008, I’ve critized how F1Fanatic favors Hamilton. However, some of the recent articles (not just this one) have shown that this is no longer an issue. In my books F1Fanatic is now the best F1 site on the Internet. Nice work!

    • Wasn’t/isn’t that the case everywhere, Hamilton could no wrong, though it’s not helping when you feel like the lone voice in the wilderness, but you were never alone.

      F1 public opinion has received a long overdue reality check over Hamilton, but still there’s the impression this is a local issue so to speak, ie something temporary occurred to change this wonderful person into what most acknowledge is someone less then edifying.

      Thing is the more astute recognised Hamilton’s less savoury traits long ago and said so, Matthew Syed in The Times was one. I still archive his article on Hamilton after LieGate (in 08/09 I think).

      But the thing is, not even Hamilton’s most vocal critic doesn’t want him to succeed, what they’ed like is for him to do it in the right way. The same went for Schumacher, and if he can’t then like some of Schumacher’s there’re really not worth having.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 29th September 2011, 18:19

      There’s been no change in the editorial position of the site in terms of backing one driver or another. It’s never been something I’ve set out to do.

      • Some people don’t get that a driver in the picture gets talked about.
        Last year he had a very solid year and voted nr1 driver on many sites. Some people that don’t look further then results don’t get the full picture.
        Just like people are mad at bbc that they talk too much to the same teams.. Well they talk to the teams that matter the most… and that want to talk to them!
        Why does Martin talk so much with Jenson on the grid? …Because he wants to talk!

        • Hotbottoms (@hotbottoms) said on 29th September 2011, 22:59

          Obviously I wasn’t talking about how often Lewis has been mentioned on this site. This should be clear since I said F1Fanatic is not favoring Hamilton anymore in an article about Hamilton.

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