Lewis Hamilton, an 18-month drought and an eighth world title further away than ever

When Lewis Hamilton took the chequered flag at the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in December 2021, after one of the most action-packed and demanding races of his career, the Brit stood on the podium proud. Defiant, even.

With the awe of a competitor on the brink of history, he leapt off top-spot and pointed towards his team down below. A 103rd win was sealed; No 104 a week later would seal a record-breaking eighth crown. Max Verstappen, meanwhile, abruptly left the stage.

That was then. This is now. In the 18 months since that win in Jeddah – a win which brought him level on points with Verstappen in 2021’s title race for the ages – Hamilton has been on the podium 12 times. No 12 was secured in impressive fashion from fourth on the grid in Spain on Sunday.

Eight ‘second-place’ finishes; four ‘third-place’ results. But zero wins.

Of course, the first of those 12 will be talked about until the cows come home. It seems borderline unfathomable that Hamilton could be so close to an eighth world championship then and still hunting that 104th grand prix victory now. Abu Dhabi 2021 was the cruellest of near-misses.

But even since then, with Red Bull taking Mercedes’ mantle at the front of the pack, Hamilton’s racing has remained at an ultra-high level. Last year, he had a mid-season streak of five podiums in a row, with Silverstone his best opportunity to stand on top once again. A mid-race safety car ruined his strategy, with Carlos Sainz instead emerging as a winner in F1 for the first time.

Yet it was Austin in October, with Verstappen’s second title already wrapped up, that was tougher to stomach. Hamilton was leading with five laps to go but, ultimately, was powerless to stop Verstappen’s Red Bull surging past him.

This, indeed, is what will be most excruciating for the 38-year-old. No opportunities have been squandered. In fact, openings have largely been self-induced, with Hamilton having to make moves on Sunday to make up for a weak qualifying record on Saturday, such was the volatility of Mercedes’ car.

And yet, Russell was the one who capitalised in Brazil last November, following a sprint victory at Interlagos with his debut grand prix win. Hamilton came home second. Russell also claimed Mercedes’ sole pole position last year, in Hungary, while Hamilton has also not qualified first since Saudi 2021.

Outwardly at least, Hamilton’s confidence in Mercedes is unaffected, despite an 18-month period riddled with frustration. So much so that a new contract is on the verge of being signed by both parties. Yet for the fierce competitor inside, such a drought will be agonising. Upcoming races at Montreal and Silverstone represent more glimmers of hope, as the new-and-improved Mercedes car evolves.

But, frankly, Verstappen and Red Bull remain in a league of their own. Russell was mocked after the first race of the season in Bahrain when he claimed Christian Horner’s team could win every race this year. It, remarkably, does not seem so farcical now.

As for Hamilton, that record-breaking eighth title seems further away than ever, with the man himself already talking about 2024. Yet breaking the longest losing streak of his career will, instead, be the predominant goal in the forefront of his mind come Canada and the traditional European season thereafter.

Max Verstappen was in a league of his own once again in Spain on Sunday


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