McLaren and Hamilton should have achieved moreduring their six years together


McLaren
24 October 2012 by Daniel Chalmers | M
          

Lewis Hamilton ought to be leaving Woking with three or four world titles under his belt, but as it stands it's likely he will leave with just one.

Hamilton famously won the 2008 world championship at the final corner on the final lap of the final race of the season. However there were also titles for the taking in 2007, 2010 and arguably he should be leading the current campaign too.

Over the last six years Lewis has shown that he is one of the most phenomenal and exciting talents ever to grace F1, despite his shortcomings. Many rate him as the driver with the most raw pace in the sport at the moment.

McLaren have shown that they are one of the most consistent teams in the pit lane, in terms of producing cars that win races each year. However again like Lewis, they have shown plenty of shortcomings too during their time together

Between them they have lost championships that they really ought to have won.

Hamilton’s debut in 2007 was simply incredible. It was like he had been a Formula 1 driver for years. He simply belonged in the sport.  Back then you would have put money on him being a multiple world champion by now.

His debut year was probably his most consistent in the sport. He was on the podium in the first nine races of the year, including his first two F1 victories at Montreal and Indianapolis.

Most point towards the final two races as the place where Hamilton threw away the title. In Shanghai he stayed out on a set of intermediate tyres for far too long, and ended up with no grip. As he entered the pit lane he beached it in the gravel.

Hamilton's first win in F1 at the 2007 Canadian GP (© Reuters)

Then in Interlagos a momentary gearbox glitch put him to the back of the field. However it was the European GP at the Nurburgring, where Lewis made the silliest mistake of the season.

The race was initially red flagged after a brief heavy rain shower. Hamilton’s big error was to switch straight to dry weather tyres at the restart, when the circuit was still very damp..

This was clearly a sign of over-confidence from Lewis. After doing so well in the first nine races of his career, you sensed that he began to think that he could walk on water.

His mistake in Shanghai you can put down to the fact that he was a rookie. It was his first season after all. However taking the restart dry tyres on a wet track at the Nurburgring was just a ridiculous gamble to take first season or not.

In the end he finished that race in ninth. Had he used intermediates at the restart like everybody else he could have won good points in that race. Two or more points from the event, and he would have been world champion, even with those disastrous final two races.

2007 was a year where McLaren should have won the lot. However the spygate scandal and the feud between Hamilton and Alonso, as well as between Alonso and the team spoiled their year.

2008 was then of course Hamilton's title year. It wasn’t an easy ride with a mix of sheer brilliance and mistakes. His domination in the rain at Silverstone has to rank as one of the best ever wet weather drives.

However errors such as hitting Kimi in the pit lane at Montreal, and being too aggressive at the start in Fuji plagued his season.

There was no doubt though that the right driver won the title in the end. His ultimate peak performances were higher than those of title rival Felipe Massa.

Near the end of the 2008 Giancarlo Fisichella told the Times of India: "I'll say this much. A driver can become a champion when he makes less mistakes than others. Lewis is quick and he has a fantastic car.”

He added: "He should have won the title last year and he should have wrapped up the (2008) championship a few races ago. He didn't."

The 2009 McLaren wasn't competitive at the start of the season (© McLaren)

In 2009 McLaren didn’t give Hamilton a car that he could compete for the championship with. After a season long title battle in 2008 the team fell behind in the battle to get to grips with the new rules.

The likes of Brawn GP and Red Bull got a headstart on them. It also turned out that double diffusers were the gizmo to have, rather than KERs.

Once Hamilton accepted the reality that he couldn’t compete for the title, and McLaren improved the car, Lewis drove some exceptional races. He drove the wheels off the car at times and managed to win two races in Hungary and Singapore.

2010 was then another real opportunity for Hamilton to win the title. In the first two thirds of the season he performed incredibly well.

Red Bull clearly had the quickest car out there. However there were some superb performances from Lewis, particularly his victories in Canada and Spa.

This combined with Red Bull pressing the self destruct button too frequently, ensured Lewis topped the championship standings after the Belgium GP.

Unfortunately it was then Lewis who pressed the self destruct button. In the Italian GP Lewis made an overly optimistic move on Massa on lap one which resulted in a DNF.

In Singapore Lewis went side by side with Mark Webber and the pair touched. The resulting damage gave Lewis another DNF.

At the same time as these two incidents McLaren started to lose out in the development race, and their competitiveness dropped off. They didn’t really regain it until the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi. It was too late then.

In the end Lewis finished 16 points behind eventual title winner Vettel. He could very easily have got the extra points he needed had he finished both the Italian and Singapore GPs in a reasonable position.

In 2011 Red Bull were the dominant force. Having said that McLaren were often very competitive in race trim. Up until the Monaco GP Lewis was having a decent season. This included his exciting win in China when he pulled great moves on his own team mate, and Vettel to win the race late on.

The Monaco GP was a race where Lewis felt he had the pace to win. The team made a huge error by not sending him out in the early stages of Q3 to set a banker lap. Sergio Perez’s heavy shunt brought out the red flag, and destroyed Hamilton’s chances.

Misfortune and bad strategy calls have played a part - Perez's Monaco accident

He then had a messy race making contact with Massa and Pastor Maldonado. From then on his season unravelled. There were more crashes (particularly with Massa) and more silly errors from McLaren.

Monaco was definitely the turning point. Had that race gone to plan, with Lewis closing in on Vettel in the title fight, you wonder how the rest of 2011 might have panned out. Chances are the end result wouldn’t have been any different, but it may well have been a much tighter battle, with a happier Lewis at the end of it.

Finally we come to the current campaign. Arguably he is driving the best he has done for a few years. Apart from getting involved in a tangle with Maldonado at Valencia, he hasn’t really done anything wrong this year.

He has been the most consistent qualifier this year. He has qualified in the top three (before penalties) in 12 out of the 16 races so far.

On the whole McLaren are to blame for the fact Lewis isn’t leading this championship. In Spain Hamilton took a dominant pole position. However he got sent to the back of the grid because of a fuel infringement, which was 100% the team’s fault.

Instead of scoring just four points he should have scored the full 25. In Bahrain pit stop struggles meant he finished down in eighth, rather than in the top four.

In Singapore he was leading when he was struck by a gearbox failure. Lewis says he was in full control of the race so very likely another 25 points was lost there.

Hamilton has suffered some bad luck too. There was the Spa incident which he couldn’t have avoided. In Germany Lewis ran over a piece of debris left from some contact on the first lap of the race.

There is no doubt that the 2008 world champion should still be in the hunt for this year’s title, and be one of the big favourites to win it.

A scene which should have been more common in 2012 had it not been for McLaren's errors

Looking back at Hamilton’s six years with McLaren the team have been very good to him. They have given him three genuine chances to win the championship in 2007, 2008 and 2010. That’s not a bad ratio at all.

In the other years they have given him a car which he has been able to win more than one race with. He has himself to blame for blowing his title chances in 2007 and 2010.

This year they have given him the car which ought to be winning the title, but they have let him down too often this season. In 2011 it was a combination of both Lewis and McLaren that cost him badly in the championship.

Overall on balance Lewis is perhaps more to blame for not winning more titles, than the Woking squad are. However there have been times when they have fallen short too.

Although McLaren have given Hamilton a few fast cars, they have never given him a dominant package over a whole season like Red Bull has for Vettel.

They have certainly been too many times when McLaren have fallen short at the moment when they really needed to deliver. Their drop-off in form in the last couple of races demonstrates is a testament to that.

When Hamilton was asked by media at the German GP if he should have achieved more since 2008 he said: “Yes. I can’t deny it, putting aside the fact that I’m very proud and grateful that I’ve had the chance to be competitive in a competitive car. But if I didn’t feel that, I wouldn’t be the driver that I am.”

He added: “Every year, I feel like I’ve prepared myself and had the mental ability and skill to have won more but, just with the circumstances, we haven’t been able to do so. It’s been a tough 10 or 15 years for this team.”

By the time this relationship ends when the chequered flag waves in Interlagos, both parties will feel they should have won more together.

Certainly Hamilton ought to have matched his hero Ayrton Senna’s total of three world titles.

At times in the last couple of years McLaren and Hamilton haven’t been able to live with each other, and have grown furthur apart.

From next year we will find out whether they will be able to live without each other.

Can Hamilton finally win the multiple titles his talent ought to be delivering at Mercedes? Can McLaren challenge for titles without him?

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