2011 F1 driver rankings no.5: Lewis Hamilton

2011 F1 season review

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.
Alex

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.
Steph

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112 comments on 2011 F1 driver rankings no.5: Lewis Hamilton

  1. themagicofspeed (@) said on 13th December 2011, 15:06

    I would agree with this placing. He has been too distracted once again this year by external troubles (which we probably arent well placed to speculate on), but when he did pull it all together he delivered perfectly, like in China, passing Vettel for the win – that was the first glimpse of the 2008 spec Hamilton we’ve seen since..well, 2008. He was on it. Germany also was a race where it all came together, it was just after his well-documented split with Nicole Sherzinger (or however its spelt) and i think that performance was his emotional fightback, a reaction to that.

    However, in contrast he has made too many stupid errors, such as in Hungary where he could have won but for his mid-race spin and resulting penalty, and his seemingly magnetic attraction to Felipe Massa often resulting in yet another clash, sometimes his fault, sometimes Felipe’s. His driving seems at times to be fuelled by anger, and this might account for the number of penalties he continues to receive.

    On account of his 3 wins, he has had a respectable year, as only him and Button have been able to take the fight somewhere close to Vettel. Drives like Hungary and Canada though, let him down so badly and on both occasions his cooler-headed team mate won.

    All in all, a mixed but troubled year which he will want to improve on – if he can rediscover the Hamilton of old, Vettel will have a fight on his hands next year.

  2. Very good round up Keith. Very balanced and good view.

    Hope he gets through his problems next year!!! Whatever they are to which only he can have the answer. !!!

    Looks like Vettel does the opposite end. No Manager. No parents, Friends or relatives at the race weekend. Could be that it simplifies matter !!! Just like going to work. You don’t carry your entire family and loved ones there :)

  3. Younger Hamii (@younger-hamii) said on 13th December 2011, 20:36

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

    I slightly disagree with that Keith and this is why…

    Of course we dont want to ‘dwell’ in the past(neither does Hamilton) and we all want to move on from bad experiences in Life but what’s very important for Lewis now is to reflect on this season as a whole for a little while,gather his family & close friends around him for support & then move on & grow stronger & im pretty sure in 2012 we’re gonna witness a different Lewis Hamilton; Mark my words all F1 Fanatics

  4. Rally (@rally) said on 13th December 2011, 21:37

    Are there any F1 fanatics working in the betting industry?

    I bet that Hamilton will never get another WDC title in a McLaren.

    Can you give some odds for this bet?

  5. Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 13th December 2011, 21:55

    I have to say, I disagree with Hamilton having such a high ranking. People point to his victories and pole position in Korea as evidence of him overcoming his problems in 2011 – but wins and poles are what we have come to expect from Lewis Hamilton. This year, he’s set a new record for the number of penalties received, been involved in a dozen on-track incidents, shown a general lack of respect for other drivers (for example, accusing Kobayashi of being in the wrong in Belgium before he even watched a replay of the accident), and been distracted by personal problems. Winning races does not somehow make his recovery sweeter. Winning races only highlights just how embarrassing his on- and off-track shenanigans were simply because we all know he was capable of more.

  6. If he could afford to do it, I genuinely think Hamilton would benefit from a season away from the sport – I honestly think the constant F1 roller-coaster is wearing on him a bit, and given that he’s either been in F1 or on the F1 ladder since he was 13 it’s not hard to see why.

    Unfortunately, the industry doesn’t allow that of the drivers. Even if Mclaren allowed him some kind of leave, what’s the likelihood he’d have a seat waiting when he came back?

    I just hope he doesn’t become like Kimi did, and fall out of love with the sport, and be semi-forced out.

    • Franton said on 14th December 2011, 0:27

      And with good reason it doesn’t normally do it. Look how Schumacher has hardly set F1 on fire since coming back. Time will only tell if Raikonnen will do any better.

      Taking a time out in such a fast paced sport is normally career suicide.

  7. electrolite (@electrolite) said on 13th December 2011, 23:07

    I’m glad Hamilton wasn’t any higher than this and the top 4 drivers are right.

    Hamilton hasn’t just made mistakes this year he also been out paced by Button in the races on a few occasions. His wins however were second to none. Germany was just genius.

  8. I’m guessing that Rosberg will be at #4, Alonso at #3, Jenson at #2 and Vettel will be #1

  9. steco (@steco) said on 14th December 2011, 9:26

    hamilton excuses are rubbish, as a pro driver he should be able to put his personal stuff to aside and focus do his job. somehow other drivers dont bring girlfriends and whoever else to support then and help them to do their job. its sad 2 c that ham needs a baby sitter and bubble of happiness to bne able to drive car as he is expected to do. compared to let say alonso he is nowhere near him, alonso makes no stupid mistakes, always 110% car performance. hearing PR crap from Ham is really tiredful.

  10. Louise0p0a (@louise0p0a) said on 14th December 2011, 10:15

    There has been so much talk about “Hamiltons worst season”. I will admit that it could have been a lot better. But for a guy having quotted “his worst season ever” and still winning three Grand prix against the best field in years. That speaks volume about Hamiltons Talent and drive.
    Just compare to Alonso who has not recieved as many wins, but does not get the same banter. I think that all this talk about Hamilton is because he is worth talking about, meaning that he always is the guy in focus in the race.. Good or bad.

    • David-A (@david-a) said on 14th December 2011, 10:59

      Just compare to Alonso who has not recieved as many wins, but does not get the same banter.

      Because he didn’t make as many mistakes, beat him in the standings, beat his teammate, took more podiums, etc.

      LH won less races in 2009, but was seen as having a good year because his car wasn’t always as good as it was this year.

  11. The Limit said on 14th December 2011, 17:00

    It seems to me that Lewis has always struggled to handle the pressure put on him by his debut season back in 2007. Yes it is true that he won the championship the following year, but only just! Even in 2008, Hamilton made several high profile errors including running into the back of Raikkonen’s Ferrari in Canada. And of all places, in the pitlane.
    2009 through to this past season have all been tough years for Lewis, and he has made plenty of mistakes, but this is largely down to the high level the fans and media expect of him.
    Before everybody starts complaining, I know its the same for all the drivers, but Hamilton is slightly different. Too many people have forgotten that nobody except Raikkonen was supposed to challenge Fernando Alonso to the 2007 world championship. Hamilton was a rookie that not many people thought would prove too much of a nuisance to the double champion, even David Coulthard questioned McLaren’s decision to give Lewis a drive. Well, we all know what happened next, and rightly or wrongly, the British media especially put Hamilton onto the worlds biggest pedastal.
    The same thing happened to Nigel Mansell and Damon Hill. To vast tracks of the British press, they were Formula One and Britain’s best hope of motorsports glory in their respective eras. Hamilton was no different, and with all of our sporting stars, has been built up and just as quickly knocked down.
    With Button and Vettel both winning championships in recent years the medias eyes have been averted elsewhere. Since joining McLaren, Jenson Button especially has been getting better and better every year, an ever increasing threat to Hamilton. Lewis may appear faster over a single lap, but Jenson has been alot better during the grands prix themselves.
    Its quite ironic that Hamilton has now found himself in a simular situation to what Fernando Alonso found himself in four years ago. Beaten by a driver no one thought would give him much trouble, in a team everybody assumed was ‘his’. Ill concieved comments like Hamilton’s Ali G joke in Monaco have only proved perfect tabloid fodder, and have made Lewis appear thin skinned and immature. Now, he hasn’t threatened to go to the FIA nor has he blocked his team mates pitstop during qualifying, but however you look at it, Hamilton has not had the best of years.
    He only has to look at his team mates career to see that the road to success is seldom a smooth one. After a great year with Williams in 2000, Button was dropped by Renault to spend many a season driving slow and extremely unreliable Honda racing cars. He became, especially in 2007 and 2008, an alsoran. He never complained, never through any tantrums, and was richly rewarded by winning the 2009 title and joining McLaren. Therein lies the lesson. Hamilton’s career started at a top team in a car that was to begin with championship worthy. Lewis had never experienced being at the back of the field in F1, had never had to watch as others grabbed all the kudos and the glory. That, this year, changed!
    Button, and many drivers like him, attained their glory the hard way by driving doggy race cars for teams that, in some cases, don’t exist anymore.
    Alonso’s debut year in 2001 was at Minardi, one of the sports least successfull teams. Enough said..

    • Mr draw said on 15th December 2011, 14:57

      It’s quite ironic that Hamilton has now found himself in a simular situation to what Fernando Alonso found himself in four years ago. Beaten by a driver no-one thought would give him much trouble, in a team everybody assumed was ‘his’.

      Interesting comparison! I never linked the Alonso-Hamilton relationship to the Hamilton-Button relationship this year, because things are quite different (Alonso moved to McLaren, Hamilton was just a rookie), but the similarities are striking.

      Seems like Alonso (almost) did a good job back in 2007. ;)

  12. Andy (@turbof1) said on 14th December 2011, 17:25

    I think he sits at the right ranking. Yes he made some hazardous mistakes, but his best performances do make up quite alot for that. In the beginning of the season he drove up to Monaco solid races, at times able to challenge Vettel who was possessing a way faster car.
    IMO, those few, but huge, mistakes taint alot of people their opinions. If you look at his season in a neutral and objective way, you’ll see his position is just right on the ranking.

    Besides that, I think Hamilton does give some colour to F1with all his mistakes. Most of the time the drivers just run around like robots, without emotions except if they end up on the podium. Not with Hamilton, his pathos really has something poetic, ideologic and dramatic to it. It almost reads like a good book, a man starting off right but later on fights with himself and really starts to struggle on the racetrack. I’d like to see if this book gets a good or bad ending, next season.

  13. Ranking the drivers is something I always have trouble with. This year the top three has been easier to choose than most years, Vettel, Button and Alosno although I debated about the order of Button and Alonso.

    As for Hamilton, his best drives this year have been the equal of anyone else but with all his mistakes and incidents I instinctively want to put him low down the rankings outside the top ten, but then I have to think which drivers to rank higher than him and that is the hard part as I can’t say that enough drivers have impressed me in 2011 to push Hamilton out of the top ten.

    Personally I think overall fifth is probably too high and would place him lower in the top ten, but I can see the arguments for placing him there.

  14. Alpha said on 18th December 2011, 8:02

    Stewarts were not fair to hamilton. It was obvious.

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