Hamilton’s struggles have an eerie similarity to the season after Schumacher’s final F1 title. Could history be repeating itself?
Lewis Hamilton: Sixth in the Drivers’ Championship Standings. These words typically aren’t found or used in the same sentence.
But, after the first five races of the season, this is the reality of the start of the 2022 Formula One Championship for the seven-time champ.
Hamilton has never finished lower than fifth in any season in Formula One. Don’t expect him to. Hamilton has the most wins all-time in Formula One and is tied for the most drivers’ championships all time for a reason: He is a genius behind the wheel. Numerous writers picked him to win the title this year or challenge for the title enough for Mercedes to win the Constructors’ Championship.
However, not even Hamilton can make up for Mercedes’ struggles with porpoising, or the new F1 car or the change in tires from 13 to 18 inch-width this season. He has struggled to acclimate to the new cars so much that he is 23 points behind his first-year teammate George Russell.
Hamilton’s struggles are rightfully a shock to many. But, when looking back into the history of Formula One, there is a driver who had a comparable situation to Hamilton’s.
That driver’s name is Michael Schumacher.
The year was 2005. At 36, Schumacher was coming off his unprecedented fifth straight world championship with Ferrari and the seventh world championship in his career. A sixth straight world championship and eighth world championship would add to his unmatched career.
Back to this season. At 37, Hamilton is coming off a title fight in which he could have won his fifth straight championship and eighth overall in 2021. But Max Verstappen got lucky with a late safety car at the final round in Abu Dhabi and was able to pass Hamilton to win the championship.
Surprisingly, Schumacher struggled to start the 2005 season. He got as high as seventh in the opening race in Melbourne before he had to retire because of a collision with Nick Heidfeld.
Through the first five races of the 2005 season, Schumacher only achieved one podium, when he finished second behind Fernando Alonso at San Marino in Italy. Schumacher and Alonso were both helped to their positions when Kimi Raikkonen had to retire his McLaren from the lead due to mechanical issues.
Through the first five races of the 2022 season, Hamilton has also only achieved one podium finish, third in the opening round at Bahrain. Hamilton was also helped by Verstappen and his teammate Sergio Perez retiring while they were ahead of Hamilton.
Like Hamilton, Schumacher was in the midfield of the drivers’ standings through five races in 2005. He was in seventh place.
Schumacher rebounded after his poor start to the 2005 season. He ended the season third in the standings after five podiums, including one win. Schumacher was far behind the top two drivers of that season. Fernando Alonso won his first world title at age 24 with Renault, while Raikkonen finished second in his McLaren.
Going back to this season, expect Hamilton to mirror Schumacher’s 2005 season. Hamilton and Mercedes are too good to be battling in the midfield each week. Some more podiums and possibly a win or two are in store.
Like Schumacher, Hamilton is far behind the two young drivers at the top of the standings.
Charles Leclerc at age 24 is in first place and Verstappen at age 24 isn’t far behind in second.
The 2005 season was a changing of the guard. Alonso won his first of two titles as Raikkonen had a quick enough car but struggled from reliability issues. Schumacher never won another world championship after 2004. Raikkonen had to wait until 2007 for his only world title.
Will 2022 be a similar changing of the guard? The ingredients are there. Leclerc has a strong lead and the more reliable car like Alonso did. Verstappen has the pace, but like Raikkonen he has suffered from reliability issues early on.
One thing is certain: Father Time is undefeated. Whether Hamilton is defeated by Papa Time this year or in the years to come remains to be seen.