Since the start of this season, there has been an ongoing talk about Lewis Hamilton’s motivation after that 4th title. Either because of his downbeat tone during interviews or his sometimes suspected lack of aggressiveness on track (at least compared to his known standards), people have been questioning whether he is actually willing to give it his all this year. To be clear and fair, Lewis has never admitted being any less hungry for the 5th crown than he was pursuing the first four.
It has been obvious to many that Lewis has not been enjoying driving this year’s Mercedes as much as he did before. Watching closely, the car looks way less agile in his hands (and feet), keeping him from attacking the way he’d want throughout the corners or during wheel to wheel battles. No trail braking mastery, no sweet throttle steering or controlled exit oversteer, no late brake overtakes. Some significant improvements on that front happened just in time for the Spanish GP, after which Lewis clearly stated that he was right to feel uncomfortable in the car before. However, even after his wins, knowing that Mercedes does not have the usual edge, Lewis has not been as cheerful. He has indicated, though, that it has been a tough year for him at a personal level. We can’t know what this means and the times when tabloids were full of pictures of him and his girlfriend are long gone.
In Austria, the team’s strategy error caused him enormous frustration. This resulted in Lewis coming over the radio lap by lap and constantly trying to emphasize that he was not to blame for the defeat. As James Vowles rightly told him during the race, it’s the driver’s job to make the most out of any situation. Lewis has been doing that often throughout his career, demonstrating extraordinary comebacks and a characteristic “never-give-up” attitude. Similarly, after being hit by Raikkonen in Silverstone, he kept telling the team about possible car handling issues despite the fact that the engineers insisted on nothing showing up on their telemetry screens. It’s as if old bad habits have come back, after a time of extreme dedication and successful fixing of his personal driving adequacies, name it tyre management, fuel consumption, engine nurturing or mental focus.
Hamilton, being an aggressive and passionate racer, has struggled to find a challenging task to feed himself with a purpose. The rivalry with the great Fernando Alonso (of whom he always speaks high), winning a title with a new team (Mercedes), the mental games with Nico Rosberg, reaching and beating some of the records of Senna and Schumacher have done the job for him to date. However, Lewis has never regarded Vettel as an Alonso-like adversary and may (still) feel like the German’s success always has to do with the car. Add that to the fact that he rarely praises the driving pleasure he’s getting out of this year’s Mercedes (performance and joy don’t always match) and it’s a combination which is directly against Lewis’ racing nature.
What was impressive, however, but also serves to verify the above, was the Silverstone weekend. Pole position in Silverstone is by no means of such high worth for the race (compared to Monaco, for instance); nevertheless, Hamilton was flying on the limit during both his fast laps in Q3 and saw his hands shaking after getting out of the car, in front of the home crowd. He had found a reason to fight for and it wasn’t for the championship points. Come Sunday, Kimi’s reckless driving (which is rare for the Finn, being one of the “cleanest” racers we’ve witnessed in F1) dropped Lewis dead last. He climbed the grid like a lion, but only after he accepted the fact that the team could do nothing to help (it is possible that the handling was affected by temporary tyre temperature and wear abnormalities after the spin, but that’s just a thought). His “stupid” (his words, not ours) words after the race concerning Ferrari’s dirty tactics (including the Vettel – Bottas incident in Paul Ricard) also reminded us of Lewis’ old times when he would even accusing the world of F1 of being racist. However, this meant Lewis was furious, showing emotions, passion and the will for revenge, something that we hadn’t seen for a long time. His apology afterwards only means that he realized his mistake but doesn’t lessen the reason he said those things in the first place.
If it is true that Lewis entered the 2018 season with less hunger, his own team’s mistake in Austria and the Ferrari drivers’ opening lap clumsiness might have just done the job of putting him back to business.