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. Sorry Keith, I think this is an over reaction. This season’s prospects were signed and sealed with three words Vettel, Red & Bull.

    I don’t think there’s anything else to it – hard to focus at the level Lewis performs when the prospects are not ideal.

    I think Lewis’ question over the radio at Singapore said it all, words to the effect: “Is there anything worth racing for here guys?” When dangled a carrot and a team demand he performed flawlessly.

    McLaren just need to deliver another championship potential car and do as Red Bull. Feign equality for drivers whilst skilfully doing something else.

    Lewis will leave Jenson for breakfast, dinner & tea, always, given an objective worth pursuing…

  2. Hardbrakingmike said on 29th September 2011, 14:14

    I’m not worried about Hamilton. He is too good of a driver to become ‘squandered potential’. Yes his recent dip in form is disappointing to say the least, but I simply cannot imagine Hamilton not challenging for the title ever again. Its ridiculous that there is even speculation of this.

    If anything its flattering for him to receive this much column inches even when hes performing the way he is. It goes to show the high standard that we expect of him – and we should never expect anything less from the most watchable and exciting driver in F1.

    He is the reason I watch the sport and i’m certain i’m not the only one here that thinks this.

    I’m surprised its only 17 points from 5th and 2nd. Will be a great battle for 2nd right till the end. Hamilton is in that contest no doubt about it.

    Having said this, great job from Jenson this season. Always knew he had great ability since his BAR Honda days, and he is fulfilling this potential with ease right now.

  3. I think his mayor problem is his current management. An emotional driver like him needs a close and strong management behind him controlling his crisis; obviously this year that hasn’t been the case. This problem reflected even since his new manager arrived with a bad attitude towards McLaren, now i think they have reconsidered that attitude because he has nowhere else to go (speaking of very competitive F1 teams) and Lewis does not have the car-developing abilities of M.S. or Alonso to take a small team and turn it into a great one.

    A F1 driver can’t have a superstar management, they are over the top sportsmen, not artists.

  4. The Limit said on 29th September 2011, 14:34

    Very good article Keith. I would also note the absence of Ron Dennis as team principal as adding to Lewis Hamilton’s downturn in recent years. I believe his relationship breakdown with his father, and Dennis resigning from his role at McLaren, are highly important in understanding this dip in form. Having your father with you your entire racing career, from racing carts to Formula One, must have some value.
    I have noticed that Jenson Button always has his dad at the grands prix, which must give a driver support and comfort, especially during bad times.
    In 2007 many criticised Ron Dennie for ‘supporting’ Hamilton more than Fernando Alonso, because Hamilton had been Dennis’ ‘find’ back in 1995. His driver that he had helped develop into a Formula One champion come 2008. Those days have come and gone.
    I have my doubts that Lewis enjoys quite the same understanding with Martin Whitmarsh that he did with Dennis. Maybe Whitmarsh doesn’t care who wins championships, just as long as it is in a McLaren? If true, that is a far cry from 2007 and the alleged ‘bias’ towards Hamilton that Alonso fans claim cost the Spaniard a third title!
    Button it would appear has thrived at being the underdog at McLaren, a driver most thought Hamilton would destroy much like he did Heikki Kovalainen. That has not been the case. Now Hamilton is Fernando Alonso circa 2007. It is Lewis who is the former world champion expected to deliver world titles but instead is losing to a team mate few thought good enough to ever challenge him. The media scrutiny at all of the mistakes, the outbursts, and penalties.
    And who does Lewis have to fall back on for advice? A member of the Pussycat Dolls? He needs to look at the reasons for his success four years ago and ask himself what is missing now that was not then! This year’s car is not the best, it is not an Adrian Newey wonder like the Red Bull is, but in Button’s hands it is certainly as good as the Ferrari. That is a fact that must surely weigh heavily on Hamilton’s mind. For the first time since 2007, he is at serious risk of being beaten by the guy in the sister McLaren. That, just two years ago, would have been unthinkable.

  5. Hardbrakingmike said on 29th September 2011, 14:39

    It really doesnt matter whether all this criticism towards Lewis is justified or not. I really couldn’t care less if this whole site started sticking up for him and explaining his dip in form. What is indisputable is that Lewis isnt performing to the level that we all know he is capable of. Thats the only issue here. Its not down to his management, or the change in rules this year which has nullified his overtaking talents, nor is it that Buttons increase in performance relative to lewis is pressurising him. THOSE are all excuses. No one can explain his error prone season except for the man himself.

    This is coming from a massive Hamilton who believes thats its not a matter of if he gets out of this slump, but simply when.

  6. question: what happened with Lewis since middle of last season when he started to make silly mistakes

  7. big alex said on 29th September 2011, 17:19

    Seems that the articles with most comments are the ones about hamilton, this guy is the spice for the F1 at moment. Enough said.

  8. hamilton will not win another wdc unless he moves team.
    the relationship were he is has become stale and check out the body language of the people in his crew when he is around how nobody is smiling or just having a chat and then look at buttons crew and it leads you to believe that hamilton is not well liked and is too formal. when you look at redbull you see that they have allot of fun and I think that comes across in the racing.

  9. Err Bob said on 29th September 2011, 21:36

    Its always darkest before the dawn. Lewis is a genius, it will show…..eventually.

  10. Even with all of Vettel’s success, the spotlight remains on Hamilton.
    You can find all the logical reasons to deny it, but in the back of your minds the feeling remains – he is the best, and the thought is uncomfortable.

    Good things the cars are not always equal it would be embarrassing.

  11. vho (@) said on 30th September 2011, 8:48

    Lewis seems to be getting a lot of penalties every time he sneezes – like what Prisoner Monkey said – If a teacher has a problematic child they will continue issue punishments until they behave. And if this is the case then it is justifiable regardless of whom it is.

    I don’t think Lewis is threatened by Jenson for the following reasons;
    * They get along off the track, and being the same nationality also helps
    * Lewis recommended that McLaren pursue Jenson as a worthy team mate
    * Lewis has confidence in his own abilities but is respectful that Jenson is getting more out of the car than he currently can.
    * Neither Lewis not Jenson have purposely wrecked each other’s race like Alonso did to Lewis in the first year with the pit stop fiasco – same with Villeneuve and Jenson when they were at BAR. So they get along while on the track too. A majority of their stoushes on track have been good and neither have ran each other off the track. With the exception of Canada – where Lewis was coming up the side of Jenson in the wet. Lewis would have been in the ¾ blind spot and the spray from the cars would have been impossible to see anyone behind (hence the FIA mandates the flashing red light at the rear) – perhaps the FIA needs to look at flashing front lights for wet races. All you guys thinking it was Jenson’s fault are delusional.

    It seems you Lewis fan boys seem to be more threatened by Jenson’s performance than Lewis is. It’s probably the same group of people that don’t believe Jenson deserved his WDC in 2009. Some of you claim it’s Jenson’s people that are giving him the media hype, but you know, it’s Lewis that’s hired a marketing firm to manage him – figure that one out?

    It takes good results to get good comments, and crashes to get negative ones.

  12. NathanBradley92 (@nathancabopino) said on 30th September 2011, 10:57

    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.

    My thoughts exactly Keith, and as a big Hamilton fan, that’s what worries me at the moment.

    For me, there’s that 5% that was there in 07 and 08, and to a slightly lesser extent in 09 and 10, that 5% that makes him such a great driver is just below the surface right now. He’s putting his car into positions it shouldn’t be in (Monaco, Canada, Singapore etc) and when he goes too far the other way (Monza) he’s not the Lewis I know.

    I feel confident he’ll find it again, but he has to find himself first. (Yes, I know that’s cheesy but it’s the best I could come up with. :) )


    • kenneth Ntulume said on 30th September 2011, 13:45

      This Headline is ignorant of an f1 enthusiast like Keith.
      Nothing has gone wrong with Hamilton,
      he is just trying hardest, than what the car can do (superman)……..
      Lewis wants to beat the Red-bull (Vettel) not to be second(JB) and play it safe…..
      he is thus taking unusually more risks, to squeeze better performance out of that car, there is no way LEWIS would have been ahead of Vettel by driving normally, givin the abnormal superiority of Vettels car, in a 2nd/3rd best car on the grid..
      no1 is still his default preference, please note, most of his, if not all , his penalties this year are a result of an attempt to overtake and gain a position thus move ahead and win races not bad driving perse….i thought this is what winning is all about….Hamilton knows well the world never remembers No 2, No3, smooth as silk drivers……it remembers spectacular drivers and winners…..ONLY NO 1…now that is impossible for him to win the championship, he still tries to win races, becoz thats what he does…winning,.

      PLEASE be wise, CHANGE your heading to, Against all odds Hamilton attempts to win races in 2011

      • David-A (@david-a) said on 1st October 2011, 20:15

        The headline is fine. Some of the crashes he’s had are from situations he probably would have cleanly made the pass in the previous 4 seasons. His errors haven’t been in the “pushing hard to win” mould of Monza 09.

  13. mattr said on 1st October 2011, 10:54

    lewis wants to win races,because thats the only way to win the championship.coming 2nd and 3rd wont win you the championship.this is why lewis goes all out for wins.its all or nothing.at the end of the day his team mate hasnt come close to winning the championship himself this season.
    lewis doesnt need to be more like button,he just needs to get back to his best.he got 2 more dnfs than button last season and still finished the season with 26 more points,so button with 2dnfs like lewis this season should finish the season with more points than lewis easily considering all the praise he’s been getting.
    if he doesnt that’ll say alot about each driver.

  14. Jackel said on 2nd October 2011, 5:11

    Lewis does not impress me at all. He has his moments as a driver, but as a person he is truly lacking. His personality appears phony and manufactured. He demonstrates little growth and does not seem to learn from his mistakes, making the same errors time and again then continues to blame other drivers, stewards, etc. Champions do not act this way .. there is a reason Vettel is dominating. He has developed, he has grown, he has learned from his mistakes and each race he gets stronger and more formidable. In short he is leaving Lewis behind on the track and in ability.

  15. bad_whippet (@bad_whippet) said on 2nd October 2011, 10:08

    What’s wrong with Lewis Hamilton?


    He’s human and in the spotlight. A very large and critical spotlight at that, wielded by armchair experts who seemingly know him better that he does himself.

    I’m pretty sure we’ll see Hamilton take another WDC.

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