Now Lewis Hamilton is thinking ‘will I ever win that eighth title?’: Mercedes ace could quit if he isn’t winning by Silverstone, warns Grand Prix veteran John Watson

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Lewis Hamilton has stopped off in New York — ‘My fav city’ — as he pursues his self-styled ‘masterpiece’, namely an increasingly elusive eighth world title.

Having spent time last week on the simulator in the Mercedes factory in Brackley, he will now hop across the States to the real-life circuit at Miami that awaits its Formula One debut a week today. He travels in search of a reboot after an early season of rare disappointment.
He has plunged to seventh in the standings, 58 points behind leader Charles Leclerc, and a final, unprecedented embellishment to his legacy looks a long way off.

A number of pundits highlighted how the great champion has struggled to match his new Mercedes partner, 24-year-old George Russell, in the same machinery. To which Hamilton, 37, retorted, alluding to his masterpiece: ‘I’ll be the one to decide when it’s finished.’

As he made this defiant statement after finishing 13th at Imola last weekend to Russell’s fourth place, Grand Prix veteran John Watson questioned whether Hamilton may privately be wondering if his dream of the octuple is unobtainable.

‘I felt sorry for Lewis in that race,’ Watson told the Mail on Sunday. ‘He has not forgotten how to drive overnight. He was in company he is not accustomed to and got stuck in a four-car chain all using DRS.
‘It was not a nice situation for a guy like him to be in. He was hip-and-shouldered out of it at the start and there was little he or the team could do about it.

‘It didn’t help that George did an outstanding job. That will eat Lewis. It was a graphic disparity because Lewis has never been outgunned by a team-mate to such a degree.

‘George has been deferential on every occasion towards Lewis. He has not bigged up his own achievements. That has been smart. Perhaps in a strange way it has been harder for Lewis to take.’

A sign of the tension at Mercedes came during qualifying last weekend, when Hamilton and team principal Toto Wolff exchanged sharp words at the back of the garage in a contretemps caught on TV.

‘The verbal tussle was interesting,’ said Watson, a five-time Grand Prix winner in the 1970s and 80s. ‘It’s like someone struggling to stay afloat in a swimming pool. There’s no point standing at the side telling them to do this or do that. You need to jump in and help them to safety. Lewis has to be positive, constructive. He can’t say, “This car is s***, you have to fix it.” He has to contribute.’

Wolff denies there is any division in the camp. That may well be true up to a point, but the spat, however fleeting, was an emblem of their current plight.
Watson added: ‘I can see Lewis getting disillusioned. The grind of being a Grand Prix driver becomes significantly harder when the car is not good. And for Lewis, given his age and the whippersnappers coming through, every year will be more and more difficult.

‘The important thing is to know when to get out. Has he stayed a season too long? I think he will take until Silverstone to see if he is back at the races and getting podiums. There is a lot to weigh up. His legacy is a major consideration.

‘He wants to be an eight-time world champion, but he may now realize he will never achieve that. The dawning of that reality may just be coming into his mind.’

Hamilton has been out-positioned by Russell in three of the four grands prix this season, though the timing of the safety car in Australia handed Russell a distorted advantage.

What of Miami and the chance to rectify the car itself? Mercedes are wrestling with ‘proposing’, a bouncing phenomenon, which has caused them to lift the ride height and so forfeit a large degree of downforce. There is no easy cure.

Yes, there is talk of upgrades in time for next weekend, but these are unlikely to result in night-and-day transformation.

As Mercedes’ trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin said: ‘We are not expecting to solve this overnight. But if we can get a clue we are going in the right direction, that we have got the bottom of what is going on, we will be quite pleased knowing we are moving along the right path.’

It threatens to be a slow and painful journey back even for the redoubtable Lewis.

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