There was very little to separate the top three drivers of 2012 besides the cars they were competing in. Unfortunately for Lewis Hamilton his let him down while he was leading on more than one occasion – and that was just the beginning of his problems.
Hamilton’s performances in 2012 were quick and generally error-free – a world away from the troubled racer who often showed up in 2011.
However the year began with a missed opportunity in Melbourne. He put the car on pole position but was beaten off the line by his team mate and was unfortunate to slip behind Sebastian Vettel when the safety car came out.
|Beat team mate in qualifying||16/20|
|Beat team mate in race||9/13|
|Laps spent ahead of team mate||638/958|
His pole-to-third result was repeated in Malaysia where the team made the first of several errors in the pits, most of which Hamilton bore the brunt of. But he also discovered that the MP4-27, though very quick in the dry, was less co-operative in the wet – as was also clear in Britain and Germany.
In China a grid penalty for a gearbox change dropped him into the pack but he emerged from it to take another third place and the lead of the championship. It proved fleeting as a pair of pit stop errors by his team in the next race left him eighth, despite a characteristically gutsy pass on Nico Rosberg.
He repeated that result in Spain after lapping quick enough for pole position in qualifying, then being sent to the back of the grid. His recovery drive, in which he made one fewer pit stop than his rivals and finished in front of his team mate, showed the kind of patience and coolness in adversity that were missing from his driving the year before.
Finally he posted his first win of the year in Canada, as he and the team sussed out the need to make an extra pit stop before Ferrari and Red Bull did. But after that his season went downhill rapidly.
In Valencia he was on course for a useful points haul when he came under attack from Maldonado. Having squeezed the Williams wide, Maldonado rejoined the track by driving clean into the side of Hamilton’s car and taking him out.
Eighth on the grid in a wet qualifying session at Silverstone yielded the same result in the race. In Germany he picked up a puncture and failed to score, though took the opportunity to vex Sebastian Vettel by un-lapping himself from the Red Bull during the race.
That cut his deficit to Alonso to 47 points and Vettel was just five ahead. Clearly, the championship was still a possibility, but there was more misfortune awaiting him once the season resumed.
Hamilton’s first-lap elimination in Belgium was entirely the fault of Romain Grosjean. But Hamilton might have avoided being caught up on it had he made the same set-up decision as his team mate, who started six places further ahead.
Button went on to win in Belgium, and it’s not hard to imagine how Hamilton might have done the same had he chosen the same rear wing. He won in Italy and retired from the lead in Singapore. This was a string of four races where he could have built a succession of title-winning Grand Prix victories the way Vettel later did. Instead he scored half the available points.
More frustration followed in Korea, where a technical problem during the race saw him limp home tenth, dragging a large clump of Astroturf which became stuck to his car. His preparations in Japan were dogged by more problems, though he recovered to beat Kimi Raikkonen to fourth. In Abu Dhabi, another likely win yielded nothing.
By this time Hamilton have made the surprising revelation that he would be leaving McLaren for Mercedes at the end of the year. Keen to go out on a high, he prised victory from Vettel’s hands at the Circuit of the Americas with an opportunistic pass when the Red Bull driver was briefly delayed by Narain Karthikeyan.
There could have been a final win in Brazil, too, even after he lost the lead by making an unnecessary switch to intermediate tyres early on. After the safety car brought him back into contention he passed Nico Hulkenberg for the lead, only for the Force India to spin into the side of him.
That was his sixth no-score in a frustrating year when things just refused to come right for Hamilton. Often – though not always – it was through no fault of his own. That he finished fourth in the championship with a car that was, on average, quickest over a single lap, is largely down to reliability and operational problems out of his control.
Hamilton was back to his best in 2012 and there is every reason to believe he’d have been in the thick of the championship contest had his car and team performed better.
F1 Fanatic readers on Hamilton
He always drove at the maximum of his and his car’s possibilities, he took advantage of the McLaren when it was the quicker can and battled with the Red Bulls when they were faster. His five retirements cost him so many points that he could’ve easily not only beaten Raikkonen, but likely Alonso and Vettel as well.
Seven pole positions plus the one he lost through no fault of his own in Spain, consistently faster than his team mate and as quick as Vettel when Newey improved the RB8. McLaren’s pit stop mistakes and bad reliability cost him so much that he finished the season even behind Raikkonen.
Arguably Hamilton’s best season since his rookie year, definitely his best since his title year. No driving errors, and when you see how much McLaren has been at fault this year, you get a better understanding of why Lewis decided to pull the trigger and move to Brackley.
Should be holding two world titles for sure. He drove brilliantly, but when that championship winning consistency was needed by the team, Hamilton was let down numerous times. We can easily add another 100 points onto his tally if McLaren had been as operationally smooth as Red Bull or Ferrari.
These point would see him easily champion. The frustration mounted this year but Lewis dealt with it well on track. Off track he had no other choice to move to a promising team that can only move up: Mercedes.
Notes on how the rankings are produced
The F1 Fanatic Driver Rankings are my personal view on how the drivers performed across the entire season. Drivers such as Jerome D’Ambrosio who only competed in a small part of the season are not included.
Each drivers’ performance in all of the race weekends are taken into account and summarised. For more detailed views of how they fared in each weekend refer to the notes produced for each Driver of the Weekend article and the driver form guides.
A selection of F1 Fanatic readers’ views appear alongside the rankings. The full rankings will be published in seven parts, with individual articles for the top five drivers, after which there will be a vote for Driver of the Year.
Over to you
What do you think of Lewis Hamilton’s last year with McLaren? Have your say in the comments.
2012 F1 season review
- The complete F1 Fanatic 2012 season review
- What F1 Fanatics thought of 2012: The year in polls
- The drivers and cars of 2012
- F1 Fanatic’s 50 article highlights of 2012
- 11 different Driver of the Weekend winners in 2012