Over the winter months, Lewis Hamilton’s radio silence was deafening. Amid the on-going fallout from the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the man at the heart of the dramatic – and some might arguable shambolic – title controversy was nowhere to be seen or heard.
It wasn’t until the beginning of Feburary that the seven-time F1 World Champion would remerge, by posting a picture with the caption “I’m back” to his various social media channels. It put to bed any suggestion that Hamilton wouldn’t return to the F1 grid in 2022, although one question still remains: How will the Brit respond to losing the 2021 Drivers’ Championship to Max Verstappen in such cruel circumstances?
Heading into the 2022 F1 season, one could put together a solid case for why Hamilton may not be the driver of old. For one, he is now 37, the same age that Michael Schumacher retired from the sport.
In addition, he will also have to get used to a new spec of F1 cars, and will be competing against a young, hungry teammate in George Russell. Charles Leclerc’s impressive debut season for Ferrari in 2019, in which he consistently outclassed Sebastian Vettel, should act as a cautionary tale for Hamilton. For the first time since 2016, he won’t have Valtteri Bottas next to him in the Mercedes garage.
And yet, while all of these reasons to doubt Hamilton have some merit, you’d be foolish to write off a man who always seems to perform best when his back is against the wall. After all, he’s been in similar positions numerous times before.
After losing the 2016 F1 world title to Nico Rosberg, Hamilton was arguably at the peak of his powers in 2017 and 2018, pushing title rival Vettel to breaking point, before winning both Drivers’ Championships at a relative canter. Far from being defined by his failure in 2016, he seemingly used it as fuel.
We got another glimpse of this championship mindset during the 2021 Brazilian GP, where Hamilton achieved one of his greatest ever wins, coming from the back of the grid to win the race, overcoming penalties that he deemed to be wholly unjust. Hamilton always has – and always will be – driving for so much more than titles alone.
His legacy will live on long after he retires, whatever happens in 2022. But in light of Michael Masi’s controversial decision to allow Max and Lewis to race on the final lap in Abu Dhabi in 2021, the veteran driver’s ‘me vs the world’ mentality will likely be even more apparent.
“I am a determined person and I like to think that while moments like this might define other people’s careers, I refuse to let this define mine, so I have focused on being the best I can be and coming back stronger,” Hamilton said during a press conference at pre-season testing last month.
“If you think what you saw at the end of last year was my best, wait until you see this year.”
He may not have the quickest car in 2022, but if history is anything to go by, the British driver’s final form could turn out to be his best yet. Very few drivers are able to take adversity in their stride quite like Hamilton. On paper, he has nothing left to prove, but you try telling that to the seven-time world champion, who looks and sounds hungrier than ever for silverware.
His former Mercedes teammate is similarly confident in Hamilton‘s ability to bounce back in style. As Bottas, who this season will drive for Alfa Romeo, explains, his rivals should be prepared to face a fired-up Lewis.
“After everything that happened at the end of last year, you’ll see,” the Finn told the press. “He’s going to be pretty strong [Hamilton] and he’s going to have the fire inside him. So beware.”