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F1: What Barcelona Taught Us About A Potential Lewis Hamilton Revival

F1: What Barcelona Taught Us About A Potential Lewis Hamilton Revival
By Eoin Harrington

F1 saw the lead of the drivers' standings change hands for the first time this season at the Spanish Grand Prix. Max Verstappen's win, coupled with Charles Leclerc's DNF, sees the Dutchman move into first place for the first time in 2022. Further down the field, however, seven-times champion Lewis Hamilton put in a performance that shows he has not gone away.

The seven-times F1 world champion has experienced a pretty tough start to the 2022 season. He has struggled to accustom himself to the new rules, as Mercedes find themselves on the back foot for the first time since 2013.

He was unhappy with his team last time out in Miami, and experienced even worse struggles in Saudi Arabia and Imola. This has all come while rookie teammate George Russell continues to impress in his first season as Hamilton's teammate.

The Spanish Grand Prix on Sunday saw Russell move further ahead of his vastly more experienced teammate - but it also gave the first sign of this 2022 F1 season that Lewis Hamilton may be on the verge of turning a corner.

Spanish F1 GP: Lewis Hamilton gives ominous sign he is on the way back

On lap one of the Spanish GP, it looked like 2022 was about to go from bad to worse for Lewis Hamilton. The Mercedes F1 man made contact with Kevin Magnussen and sustained a puncture, dropping him to 19th place. By the time he came out of the pits, he was 54 seconds behind then-race leader Charles Leclerc.

Hamilton was the only driver in the top ten to gamble on starting on the medium tyres - that alternative strategy was in the bin after only four corners. With the strategy up in the air, Hamilton nearly a full minute behind the race lead, and almost half a minute off Nicholas Latifi in 18th, he appeared to want to call it in - suggested to the team that they "save the engine".

It's just as well that the team urged him to continue - he ended up surpassing their expectations of eighth place, working himself into fourth briefly, before having to slow on the penultimate lap due to car issues, allowing Carlos Sainz through. The result keeps Hamilton in touch with the leading men at Red Bull and Ferrari in sixth place in the F1 standings.

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It was a seriously impressive drive from Hamilton, and was a prime example that the 2022 F1 rule changes have indeed worked in making overtaking more possible. That is not to detract from Hamilton's drive, which was stunning, but it is nonetheless fantastic to see that the new regulations have (mostly) worked.

There are a few mitigating factors, of course. The fact that the comeback drive was the result of a collision will frustrate Hamilton, though he was not to blame for the first lap contact with the Haas of Kevin Magnussen. The stewards deemed it a racing incident but, in this author's view at least, the Haas man deserved slightly more blame for turning in harshly, despite the amount of space on Hamilton's outside.

Regardless of who was to blame, both drivers lost out, and it was a test of Hamilton's morale. The Brit has seemed to have a dented sense of confidence in recent weeks, apparently unable to comprehend what is causing him to struggle so much with the car, and to be so far off the pace of his teammate George Russell.

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Which brings us to George Russell. If we're going to speak about Hamilton and Mercedes, we must of course briefly acknowledge Russell's continued excellence. He has undoubtedly been one of the season's biggest success stories, proving that Mercedes have not made a mistake putting his relative inexperience up against the most successful driver in F1 history.

He impressed once again on Sunday, holding off Max Verstappen for a prolonged period of the race. He did have a hand from the Red Bull's faulty DRS - but he was also able to fend off the famously aggressive Verstappen through the corners, lap after lap.

In the F1 record books, the results from Spain 2022 will read Russell P3 and Hamilton P5. Despite what the result may read, however, Hamilton was just as impressive, and even quicker in terms of lap times, than his fellow Brit in the Mercedes.

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In a strange way, P5 for Hamilton felt like a far bigger result than a second podium of the season for Russell. Hamilton suggested as much when he said that fighting his way back from the back of the grid "felt better" than a race win, and it felt like one of those moments that a season can swing on.

We saw a great example of the power of mentality in sport elsewhere on Sunday, when a five minute swing saw Manchester City come from 2-0 down to lead 3-2 against Aston Villa and ultimately claim the Premier League title.

Hamilton has won seven F1 world titles partly because of his similar refusal to ever give up. The fact he was tempted to on Sunday shows just how dire the opening of the season has been for him - he may well turn out to be eternally grateful that they convinced him not to. These are the moments that can define a season, and the confidence that Sunday's comeback has given Hamilton, in the midst of a prospective Mercedes turnaround, could be a decisive factor in bringing him back into play.

The biggest sign of how big the performance improvements have been for Mercedes is that all involved seemed almost disappointed with a 3-4 finish. Both Hamilton and his team boss Toto Wolff suggested that the Mercedes man could have fought for a podium, or even a win, had it not been for issues at the beginning. Wolff called Hamilton's race pace "stunning" when speaking to Sky Sports after the race.

Even stronger were comments made elsewhere by Wolff, where the Mercedes team principal likened Hamilton's drive to ones seen during his run of F1 championship wins with the team. Wolff said the comeback was a good omen for the weeks ahead:

With Lewis, we had probably the fastest race car today. He was 50 seconds behind at the end. And he caught all the way up, and at stages, in the race, he was the quickest, and that shows the potential that the car has.

That looked like a world championship-winning race car that he was driving, that would have not been possible in the previous races. That reminded me of last year and the years before when a car and the driver is really on the top of its game. And the driver.

Can we fight for a world championship? Well, we bet we can.

We are absolutely pushing flat out in order to bring us back into the game.

Hamilton's post race interview with Sky Sports hinted at similar sentiments, as he said without the issues at the beginning of the race, anything could have been possible in Barcelona.

As recently as after Saturday's qualifying session, Lewis Hamilton said he was struggling with the car, saying he "didn't know" what he had to do to get more out of Mercedes' upgraded car.

As recently as lap five of Sunday's race, Hamilton was contemplating throwing in the towel and saving the engine - a decision that would have left him in eighth place in the F1 world standings, behind former Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas.

Time will tell if Mercedes' improvements will be enough to consistently fight with Red Bull and Ferrari. But, if the turnaround in pace is matched by the upturn in morale from Lewis Hamilton, they may yet have something to say in the 2022 F1 title battle.

Wrapping up from the Spanish Grand Prix

Position Driver Team Points Race wins
1st Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing-RBPT 110 4
2nd Charles Leclerc Scuderia Ferrari 104 2
3rd Sergio Perez Red Bull Racing-RBPT 85 0
4th George Russell Mercedes AMG F1 74 0
5th Carlos Sainz Jr Scuderia Ferrari 65 0
  • Driver of the day: We've covered Lewis Hamilton, so let's otherwise give this to Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard started in last place for his home race, but fought his way back to P9 to give the Barcelona crowd something to cheer. After a day to forget in Miami, Alonso and Alpine needed this result.
  • Day to forget: The temptation here is to say Ferrari but, after their much discussed and controversial upgradesAston Martin will be gutted to have come away with such a poor performance in Barcelona. They looked more competitive but, after investing heavily in the new car, P11 and P15 doesn't exactly mark a corner turned. They were still behind Alpine, Alfa Romeo and McLaren on pace, and will be hoping for a bigger push forward in Monaco.
  • The big question ahead of round #7: Can Ferrari bounce back? A DNF for Charles Leclerc and yet more woe for Carlos Sainz was not what they needed in Barcelona, and Monaco has brought its fair share of troubles for home hero Leclerc in the past. The race in Monte Carlo comes at a pivotal point in the F1 title battle - and Ferrari need things to turn around.

SEE ALSO: Balls Remembers: When An Irishman Nearly Won The 1982 Monaco Grand Prix


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