Lewis Hamilton is without doubt one of the greatest Formula 1 drivers of all-time and deserves to be an eight-time world champion. However, one weakness, if there is such a thing, has been exposed since he’s not been in a dominant car.
At the 2023 British Grand Prix, Lando Norris held off Hamilton in a 14-lap sprint after the safety car for Kevin Magnussen‘s stricken Haas to take second place at Silverstone.
Norris was on the hard tyres compared to Hamilton on the softs, and was expected to be eaten up – using the words of Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff.
The McLaren was very strong at Silverstone but the tyre offset meant Hamilton should have been able to overtake his compatriot. Instead, he was forced to settle for third.
How did Norris keep Hamilton behind
Firstly, huge credit goes to Norris for putting his car in the right places and defending almost perfectly.
Hamilton was particularly strong in the first sector, so had a couple runs down the Wellington Straight towards Turn Six, so Norris covered the inside.
This gave Hamilton the upper hand for the long right hander at Luffield, but he was never able to get his nose ahead at any point.
“I threw it up the insight into Turn 7 in the hope that, this is the moment that I’m going to make it happen and I pressed the overtake button,” Hamilton old select members of the press, including Total-Motorsport.com.
“So we’re both going down the road with the overtake but he had less drag so I guess he said they had a smaller wing and they just started pulling so I had to back out.
“But I was relatively quick in the first half of the lap and I think if you look at our qualifying laps, we were very, very close to Max all the way I think it’s until Turn 13, then that’s where they pull all their time. So we’ve got some work to do to improve our high speed performance.”
Crucially, Norris got more than one second ahead of Hamilton two laps after the restart, so the latter never had DRS.
There were a few times where Hamilton threw his car a little deep into The Loop and perhaps could have been more aggressive, especially in the first restart lap. Could he have gone for it at Turns 3 or 4 with a lunge up the inside?
That attacking nature of Hamilton is missing compared to the rest of the field and it’s not the first time he’s been exposed.
Has Hamilton lost a racing edge?
The young generation of drivers such as Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc, George Russell, Carlos Sainz and Norris all get their elbows out.
Racing has evolved a lot since they made their debuts and much of this can be attributed to the ultra-aggressive style Verstappen imposed during his early Red Bull years.
Late defensive or attacking moves, pushing your rivals wide, all in order to get a psychological advantage – no matter what you think of Verstappen, he tested the limits of racing, sometimes overstepping it, and became THE driver no one wanted to battle.
Others have followed suit but it seems the more experienced drivers, such as Hamilton, prefer to play the percentages.
Take Fernando Alonso at the season-opening 2023 Bahrain Grand Prix for instance. The way he sized up Hamilton was by cutting back in low-speed corners to get better exits, rather than just firing it up the inside at the first time of asking.
Only when he was on the back of Hamilton‘s gearbox did he launch it down the inside, with a bold move at Turns 9 and 10.
Racing has changed in F1. There’s more urgency and aggression. A potential reason for this is getting an overtake done as soon as possible means you don’t get stuck in the dirty air of the car in front, which causes your tyres to overheat and degrade.
That’s what happened to Hamilton against Norris as he missed the best opportunity to overtake at Silverstone during those opening few laps on the restart.
A week earlier at the 2023 Austrian GP sprint race, Hamilton was outmanoeuvred in the wet weather by some of the midfield runners too, just placing his car in the wrong parts of the track at some points.
Costly racing mistakes in 2021
Hamilton only had to fight Nico Rosberg from 2014 to 2016 and often came out on top. But, the emergence of Verstappen was something he rarely dealt with well when they battled for the same piece of track.
At the 2018 United States GP, Hamilton had fresher tyres and a faster car but couldn’t get by Verstappen in the closing laps. It took a different strategy call at the 2019 Hungarian GP for him to win, after not being able to overtake the Red Bull driver on track.
Then came 2021 when Verstappen had a car that was capable of fighting against Hamilton at nearly every race.
You might think Verstappen was in the wrong for his robust starts in Imola and Barcelona, where he forced Hamilton to give way. But, the stewards thought there was nothing wrong at the time, so why should Verstappen have changed his approach?
In Hungary again, Hamilton took a long time to get by a much slower Alonso and it likely cost him the win as Esteban Ocon took victory for Alpine.
In years gone by, waiting for a mistake from the driver you are fighting or being patient would pay off. But now anymore in an era where tyres is so important and getting a move done quickly can decide how your Sunday goes.
Should Hamilton change his approach? Yes. But, his current conservative racing style already means he’s on the backfoot against most of the grid when it comes to wheel to wheel racing.
Where is the next F1 2023 race?
With the F1 circus finished at Silverstone, we move on to the 2023 Hungarian Grand Prix which will be held at the Hungaroring, Budapest over the weekend of July 21-23.