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The truth behind Lewis Hamilton’s rut after ‘shocking’ race in Canada

In Europe
June 10, 2024

After the frantic finale to Sunday’s topsy-turvy, wet-dry Canadian Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton did not react like a man who just landed his highest finish of a 2024 season which, by his lofty standards, has been woeful so far.

Coming home in fourth place, the Mercedes driver missed out on a first podium of the year to team-mate George Russell, superior on quicker medium tyres to Hamilton’s set of hards. While Russell trotted speedily towards the cool-down room reserved for the top-three finishers, Hamilton sat solemnly in his W15 car in the pit-lane. For some time, too, no doubt reflecting on a race and a weekend of missed opportunities.

F1 fans online were quick to draw parallels to the Brit’s reaction to that race in 2021, when an eighth title was stolen from him in Abu Dhabi. Similarly, Hamilton was left crestfallen in his cockpit but while he may have been in a state of shock two-and-a-half years ago, his demeanour is now one of simple discontent.

Incredulously, Hamilton has not won a race since that cruel ending in the UAE. It is now thirty months since his last victory in Saudi Arabia and the seven-time world champion is concluding his Mercedes career deep in the doldrums, unable to dig himself out of a hole which started in 2022 – with Mercedes’ butchering of the new regulations – and will end later this year when he eyes a final glorious swansong at Ferrari.

However over the weekend in Montreal, with Mercedes’ upgraded car showing clear signs of performance throughout, there was nowhere for Hamilton to hide. Hopes were high ahead of qualifying on Saturday after he topped the timesheets in the final practice session, yet Russell emerged on pole position. The gap to Hamilton was only two-tenths of a second, but six places on the grid.

Yet chances emerged and were not grasped on race day. After the first half of the race saw him frustratingly behind old nemesis Fernando Alonso, Hamilton quickly caught the leading pack following a safety car and after consultation with his engineer Peter “Bono” Bonnington, took a free pit stop and switched to more durable, but slower hard tyres. Russell made an error ahead and a podium seemed in Hamilton’s sights before the younger Brit, without much opposition, cruised past a few laps later.

“It was a pretty disastrous afternoon yesterday [qualifying] and today the race was shocking,” a downbeat Hamilton said in the media pen afterwards, despite recording his best finish of the season having not finished higher than sixth in the previous eight races.

“I can’t say that I am happy with it… I had to just drive better today, less mistakes. Lots of mistakes over the weekend on the whole but positives to take in performance.”

The gap to Russell in qualifying this season has been stark and should be a matter of concern to Hamilton ahead of his move to Ferrari next year, where he will be up against arguably the quickest driver over one lap in Charles Leclerc. In nine races, Russell has qualified higher than Hamilton in eight of them.

Lewis Hamilton finished fourth in Sunday’s Canadian Grand Prix (Getty Images)

Lewis Hamilton finished fourth in Sunday’s Canadian Grand Prix (Getty Images)

The seven-time world champion missed out on a podium in the closing stages (Getty Images)

The seven-time world champion missed out on a podium in the closing stages (Getty Images)

A fortnight ago in Monaco, Hamilton somewhat cryptically insisted he thinks Russell will finish higher than him at every qualifying this season, with it since emerging that Russell benefited from an upgrade that Hamilton did not have in the principality.

Further cases of favouritism are likely to emerge as the season progresses. Quite naturally as well. Russell is Mercedes’ future – why would Toto Wolff favour an outgoing driver, even if he’s as successful as 103-time race winner Hamilton?

Hamilton, despite a competitiveness to rival anyone in the sport, seems almost accepting of the status quo as the season progresses. Or in his case, drags on. It has been his worst start to an F1 season ever. Languishing down in eighth place in the standings, he is 14 points off his team-mate Russell and 139 points behind leader Max Verstappen.

For the seven-time world champion, his move to Ferrari cannot come soon enough. He is in a rut – and he knows it.

George Russell has qualified higher than Hamilton in eight out of nine races this season (Getty Images)

George Russell has qualified higher than Hamilton in eight out of nine races this season (Getty Images)

The 39-year-old seems disillusioned with his role at the Silver Arrows this year, stuck in something of a racing purgatory before his final tilt in Maranello. It is a position unfamiliar for a great of the sport, given his usual role of top dog.

“I think this weekend, the car was capable of winning,” he added post-race. “That’s why it is not such a great feeling.

“Of course, if I had qualified better, I would have been in a much better position. So it is what it is, I will go back to the drawing board.”

The stopwatch does not lie, and nor does the championship table. Yet talk of Hamilton losing his mojo is premature.

Having finished lower than Russell two years ago, he usurped his team-mate comfortably last year in leading Mercedes to second in the teams’ championship. Clearly, Hamilton will find more motivation next year, potentially armed with a Ferrari car capable of challenging Max Verstappen and Red Bull.

But a season of sparseness would still be damaging. Hamilton will be desperate to end his lengthy winless streak or, at the very least, secure a place on the podium. A European triple header upcoming, which concludes at his home race in Silverstone, is his next chance to salvage something from a season he may already want to move on from.

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