Lewis Hamilton, McLaren, Korea, 2011

2011 F1 driver rankings no.5: Lewis Hamilton

2011 F1 season reviewPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren, Korea, 2011
No celebration for Hamilton after taking pole in Korea

“The personal life, the way things have gone have not been as smooth and as happy as they could have been in the past and to do what I do is a combination of many, many things that are surrounding you”

Lewis Hamilton explaining his troubles in 2011? No – this quote is from last December. This is Hamilton describing what went wrong last year.

Twelve months on the explanation hasn’t changed but Hamilton’s form has clearly suffered.

Hamilton has always been a error-prone driver. This was true when he won the F3 Euroseries in 2005, the GP2 championship in 2006, and the world championship three years ago. This makes ranking him among his peers a case of weighing up the brilliant drives against the mistakes.

Previously the moments of genius have vastly outweighed the gaffes. But this was not the case in 2011.

During a fraught season he collided with his team mate Jenson Button, Pastor Maldonado and – on several occasions – Felipe Massa.

Beat team mate in qualifying 13/19
Beat team mate in race 7/14
Races finished 16/19
Laps spent ahead of team mate 530/975

At times he paid the price of putting himself at the mercy of another driver during an overtaking move. This worked brilliantly when he forced his way past Button in China – not so much when applied to Maldonado and Massa in Monaco.

This was not the case of a few minor racing incidents. Hamilton committed the kind of baffling blunders not worthy of a driver of his calibre. Such as carelessly driving into the back of Massa in Singapore. Or repeating almost move-for-move the same driving he’d been warned about in Sepang last year, leading inevitably to a penalty.

Rare were the weekends when Hamilton did not make at least one appearance before the stewards. This prompted his notorious outburst in Monaco where he claimed the stewards singled him out more often than other drivers. But looking at the record over his five years in F1, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that, one or two incidents aside, Hamilton’s treatment from the stewards has been entirely fair.

It’s easy to play up the desperate moments of Hamilton’s 2011 campaign and overlook the moments of genuine inspiration. His victories in China and Germany were from the top drawer, blending speed and Hamilton’s characteristic aggression and verve racing for position against the best drivers in the world. I simply couldn’t bring myself to place a driver capable of those performances outside the top five.

He began the season strongly in Australia after a torrid off-season for McLaren, hounded Sebastian Vettel in Spain, and was the only driver to beat Red Bull to pole position all year.

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren, Nurburgring, 2011
Happier times: Winning in Germany

What really lies at the root of Hamilton’s unsettled year is the cause of considerable speculation. Much has been made of his decision to appoint managers who are more concerned with Lewis Hamilton the brand rather than the racing driver.

It’s also true that he came under greater pressure within his team than ever before, ending the season behind his team mate for the first time in F1. Hamilton was usually quicker than Button in qualifying but on race day Button often got more life and performance from the new specification tyres.

Come the end of the season there were some signs Hamilton had begun to find his form again. He took a third win in Abu Dhabi, gifted by Vettel’s first-lap retirement. But he ended the year with an anonymous performance in Brazil which ended with a rare gearbox failure.

It was a suitably unsatisfactory end to a season which Hamilton would probably sooner forget.

F1 Fanatics on Lewis Hamilton

Much has been said about his issues so I won?t go into detail, but it?s been a poor season for him. Even so, his wins in China and Germany were of the highest class ?ǣ his driving skills have never been in doubt, only his mentality.

It?s good for the sport that he seems to have got on top of whatever issues he had, because Formula 1 without an on-form Lewis is lacking.
Dan Thorn

Occasional flashes of brilliance in China and Germany were marred by silly mistakes and unusual muted performances. He seemed to be constantly involved in needless incidents that took valuable points from him. Outclassed by Button this year in and out of the cockpit.
Colossal Squid

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren, Melbourne, 2011
Second in Melbourne felt like win after testing trouble

Hamilton is an excellent qualifier and a daring overtaker. But this year, his judgement has been poor and he has attempted many moves which were neither sensible, nor necessary. With DRS and disintegrating tyres, many moves which were once ??brave? and now ??foolish? ?ǣ and Hamilton hasn?t had the nous to adjust his strategy.

Behind all that Hamilton remains fast, and won three races (albeit Abu Dhabi was almost uncontested). Almost any team on the grid would love to have him.

Some races he was just off the pace (Valencia, India and Brazil although he had a problem at Brazil) and others he was just reckless/unfortunate. He may have been stellar in Germany and China but apart from that it was like someone else was driving the car.

I never expected Lewis to have a season like this and I?m sure he?ll bounce back but few greats have such a woeful and distracted season when in good cars. He can?t afford another year like this.

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Images ?? McLaren