2022 F1 driver rankings #6: Lewis Hamilton | 2022 F1 driver rankings


No matter how many world championship titles Lewis Hamilton has achieved over the years, nothing could have softened the brutal blow of losing the 2021 world championship in the manner in which he did.

Having avoided the public gaze while coming to terms with his season ending in such stunning fashion, Hamilton eventually reappeared at Mercedes’ February launch. They began 2022 with a fierce determination to reassert their dominance over Red Bull and the rest of the grid once more but instead endured their worst season of their decade-long partnership.

The W13 had fundamental problems, which was clear from its first run, and did not improve through testing. The eight-times constructors’ championship showed up to the Bahrain test with eye-catching sidepods, slim to the point of non-existent, and were alarmed when they did not yield the anticipated gains.

The car was far from the pace of the Ferrari and the Red Bull – a point proved beyond doubt when Hamilton qualified fifth on the grid to start the season in Bahrain, behind all four of them. Indeed, keeping the rest of the midfield behind proved a challenge for the first half of the season.

Hamilton was nowhere in Jeddah

Despite the relative lack of performance from the W13, Hamilton achieved the best result he could have by taking an unexpected spot on the podium behind the Ferraris, courtesy of Red Bull’s double failure late in the race. But Mercedes knew they had a mountain to climb to address the core problems with their new ground effect car and had to find some kind of a solution to their aerodynamic porpoising and lack of downforce if they could even begin to hope to challenge for the titles this year.

The early rounds of 2022 effectively became test sessions for Mercedes as both drivers – but predominately the more experienced Hamilton – ploughed through a huge checklist of experimental parts and settings to help the team at Brackley work out how to solve their problems. But Hamilton was still competing over these early weekends and in Jeddah, he had possibly his worst performance of the season. Having failed to make it out of the first stage of qualifying, he gradually rose up the order in the race, but missed an opportunity to pit under Virtual Safety Car and came home with the final point in tenth, five places behind Russell.

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Mercedes were again well off the front-runners in Melbourne, but Hamilton was much better when it mattered, only losing a podium place to his team mate after a Safety Car was deployed at the best possible time for Russell. But Imola was just plain poor. Hamilton never threatened the points once across the three days, spending almost 40 laps stuck behind Pierre Gasly and, unable to find a way past, eventually finished down in 13th place as Russell took fourth.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Paul Ricard, 2022
Hamilton picked up momentum over the summer

Being beaten by former team mate Valtteri Bottas in an Alfa Romeo in Miami was not Mercedes’ finest moment, but in the race Hamilton was again unlucky to finish behind his current team mate after another convenient Safety Car worked in Russell’s favour. At this stage in the season Hamilton was the lowest ranked driver of the top three teams, 23 points behind his new team mate and just a single point ahead of Lando Norris in sixth.

Then, with the team’s first major batch of upgrades in Spain, Hamilton displayed the kind of performance that many would expect from the sport’s most successful ever driver. After a clash with Kevin Magnussen left him crawling back to the pits with a puncture, Hamilton rejoined the circuit almost a minute behind the rest of the field. Over the remaining 65 laps, he stormed through the field with terrific pace, climbing as high as fourth. While a late water leak forced Mercedes to slow him down and cost him that fourth position at the finish, Hamilton had looked like his usual elite self for the first time all season.

But as Mercedes continued to throw everything they could to improve their car, it seemed the W13 only got more uncomfortable to drive. Back-to-back street circuits in Monaco and Azerbaijan caused the car to bottom out so brutally that Hamilton described his drive to fourth in Baku as his most painful race. Another round of experimental set-ups in Montreal practice were described as “a disaster” by Hamilton, but he led Russell home in the race, taking third to secure his second podium finish of the season.

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As Mercedes made gradual gains with its W13, Hamilton led a race for the first time this year on home ground (Russell already had in Spain). For the first time, he looked in with a genuine, but slim, chance of fighting for the win, inheriting the lead in the pit stop cycle before the late Safety Car. After a thrilling three-way scrap with Sergio Perez and Charles Leclerc, Hamilton passed the Ferrari to take a second consecutive podium in third.

A clash with Alonso at Spa was avoidable

Hamilton had put a shaky start to the season behind him and was now in the midst of a streak of podiums. He bounced back from crashing in qualifying at the Red Bull Ring to climb up to third, then followed Max Verstappen home to take second at Paul Ricard – his best finish of the year to date. He repeated that feat in Hungary to head into the summer break still down in sixth position but well in touch of Russell and Carlos Sainz Jnr ahead.

But arriving back in Spa, Mercedes were not in the same league as Ferrari and Red Bull. A misjudgement at the start saw Hamilton drive into Fernando Alonso, bouncing his car into the air and causing his first retirement of the season. In Zandvoort, Mercedes’ pace was so much more competitive that Hamilton found himself back in the lead of a race for only the fourth time all season. But after Verstappen, Russell and Charles Leclerc pitted under a late Safety Car, all three passed him after the restart.

While his form had improved with his car, Hamilton was not infallible over the final part of the season. His race in a wet Singapore was messy, skidding off into the barriers pursuing Sainz and breaking his front wing. In Japan, he spent 16 laps stuck behind Esteban Ocon’s Alpine – a car he would have expected to finish ahead of by this stage in the championship – taking the chequered flag in fifth less than a second behind him.

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With only a handful of races remaining, Mercedes and Hamilton’s opportunities to take a win were running low. He fought immensely hard to challenge Verstappen in the United States but had to settle for second after Verstappen caught him with seven laps remaining. While Hamilton followed the world champion home a week later in Mexico, Verstappen had just been too fast for him to do anything about it.

(L to R): Lewis Hamilton; George Russell, Mercedes, Interlagos, 2022
He had to settle for second to Russell in Brazil

But then came Brazil. After accepting Brazilian citizenship in an extraordinary parliamentary ceremony before the weekend, Hamilton thrilled his new home fans by holding second place at the start of the grand prix behind Russell. But when Verstappen attacked him after the Safety Car restart, the two rivals inevitably collided, causing damage to his car. Despite the shunt, Hamilton fought back to reclaim second behind his team mate to have a genuine shot of battling him for a race win over the final ten laps of green flag racing. Russell held his nerve and Hamilton could only follow his team mate home, still securing Mercedes’ long-awaited first win of the year with a one-two finish.

Hamilton ended his most disappointing season for years with an underwhelming display in Abu Dhabi. He should have qualified higher than fifth but made an error in his final lap, then held onto the place by cutting a chicane, having to eventually be told to return the position laps later. While running fourth in the closing laps, his race and season ended four laps short with a hydraulics problem. Finally, he no longer had to race the W13 again.

While so much of Hamilton’s early difficulties could be put down to his team throwing everything and the kitchen sink into finding a solution for their car’s problems, he was still matched and beaten by his brand new team mate more often than many would have expected from a driver of the calibre of Hamilton. However, he showed he is still the same great driver as ever through the second half of the season.

With Mercedes now right back in the battle at the front, his rivals better be ready to fight against him far more frequently in 2023.

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