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F1: What Jeddah Taught Us About Lewis Hamilton's Struggles For Mercedes

F1: What Jeddah Taught Us About Lewis Hamilton's Struggles For Mercedes
Eoin Harrington
By Eoin Harrington
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A little under four months ago, Lewis Hamilton qualified on pole position for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in Jeddah, with his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas alongside him on the front row. He would go on to win the penultimate race of 2021 after a dramatic battle with Max Verstappen.

Fast forward to March 2022, and Hamilton experienced an altogether different weekend in Saudi Arabia. 16th in qualifying, and only 10th in the race after some strategic misfortune, are a sharp indicator of just how much Mercedes have been turned on their head in 2022.

Saudi Arabian GP: Lewis Hamilton is in for a rough ride for Mercedes

The 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix will be one that Formula 1 may seek to forget in a hurry. Friday brought a missile strike within 10km of the track, which led to questions about the security of the track in Jeddah.

As headlines go, I don't know if this writer has ever written a crazier one than "F1 Pushes Ahead With Saudi Arabia Race Despite Missile Strike". Concerns already existed about the appalling human rights records in the country, with Lewis Hamilton once again speaking about his discomfort with racing in Saudi ahead of the weekend.

Questions were also asked of the safety of the track, once again. The ultra-fast, ultra-narrow Jeddah Corniche Circuit was practically begging for a major accident, and we regrettably got one on Saturday. Mick Schumacher's huge hit with the barriers prevented him from racing on Sunday. Thankfully, the German was okay, though a bit shaken and bruised by the impact.

The drivers are set to meet with F1 authorities on Tuesday to discuss the future of the race. If it were just the questionable safety of the track, or the threat of missile strikes, or the downright appalling human rights conditions in Saudi Arabia, you'd be justified in calling this race off for the future. Something tells me F1 won't do that, but let's hope this is the last time we visit Jeddah.

After all of the chaos of the early weekend, we were treated to quite the race on Sunday. Sergio Perez could count himself unlucky to have lost out on the race win, after an unfortunately timed safety car dropped him from 1st to 4th in the opening stages.


For the second week in a row, however, it was Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen centre stage, and they put on another outstanding show. Verstappen's clever thinking around the DRS detection point was the type of race-craft he will need to keep on top of Leclerc this year. Both drivers have a win each now, and the season is set up for a titanic battle between the pair.

Missing from all of this, however, is Lewis Hamilton. To say the Mercedes driver was anonymous throughout the weekend wouldn't quite be fair, given how well documented his struggles were all weekend.

But this was a Lewis Hamilton we haven't seen in a long time. In all honesty, I can't remember ever seeing Hamilton as despondent and off the pace since his McLaren days.


The Briton failed to make it out of Q1 for the first time since 2009 on Saturday, and his race day brought more struggles. Though he did well to work his way through the field, it took him a long time to get his tyres working, and he spent several laps stuck behind the likes of Kevin Magnussen in the Haas.


Hamilton did well to snatch a podium out of nowhere in Bahrain, when the Red Bulls faltered. By contrast, he finished 41 seconds behind his teammate George Russell, with just a solitary point for his 10th place.

The seven-times world champion was widely quoted on Sunday evening asking if there was even a point handed out for 10th place. Perhaps a sarcastic joke summing up his weekend, but it shows just how unusual this terrain is for Hamilton.


Speaking to Sky Sports after the race, he gave a run down of where some of his struggles had come from:

I struggled at the beginning with the tyre temperatures and then it started getting a bit better and I started to gain on the guys up ahead. They were on the medium tyres and they started to drop off. It was a really good stint - I was pushing and I think I was doing pretty much the same times as George who had new hards.

I was feeling good at that point and then it all hit the fan with those cars stopping.

I don't particularly feel like much has changed since the last race. It's only been a few days. What I know is that I couldn't keep up with the Haas at the end. The power they have, they went slingshotting past me when I overtake Magnussen earlier in the race.

We've got a lot of work to do, for sure, but I know I've got a great team. We'll just keep our heads down and try to improve.

The assertion that the Mercedes "couldn't keep up with the Haas" is the sentence that jumps out from Hamilton's post-race comments. This is a Haas team that finished last with no points in 2021, and a Mercedes that has won the last eight constructors' championships. The turnaround in fortunes has been stark for 2022.

The issues with the Mercedes seem like a fundamental design flaw. Whereas Ferrari and Red Bull appear to have nailed the new technical regulations, Mercedes appear to have botched their aerodynamic design, with major compromises on weight now necessary to prevent the "porpoising" we've seen them struggle with.

But, above all, the car simply doesn't look as quick as it's silver and black predecessors. Hamilton in particular seemed completely at sea with the car all weekend, though George Russell was still over half a minute away from the race winner Max Verstappen at the chequered flag.

Hamilton was seen looking defeated as he stepped out of the car on Sunday evening. The body language and tone from Hamilton all weekend was wobbly at best, with the Brit looking shaken in his post-qualifying interview, and in subdued form in his press appearances throughout the weekend.


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It was an unusually despondent weekend for Hamilton, and one that will raise questions about his mind frame going in to the rest of the season.

But Saudi Arabia 2022 is not the end of the world for Lewis Hamilton. He had just about his worst all-round weekend since pre-COVID, and still managed to conjure up a points finish even after some late misfortune.

And, after all, this is Lewis Hamilton we are talking about. He might just be the greatest driver of all time. The statistics certainly back that up. It's unlikely Jeddah is an omen of things to come for Hamilton, but it is a stark indicator of just how bad the Mercedes is in comparison to the front runners - and just how much Hamilton, in particular, appears to be struggling with it.

Back in 2009, McLaren and Hamilton went from world champions to scrapping for "best of the rest" after botching a major regulation change. There is a sense of déja-vu about all this in 2022 - but even in that dreadful '09 season, Hamilton managed two race wins.

It's going to be a long road back for Mercedes to catch up with Ferrari and Red Bull. They'll be hoping that Saudi Arabia is but a blip for Hamilton, and that their multiple world champion can help the team work their way back up to where they "belong."

Wrapping up from the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

  • Driver of the day: The front two were once again on fire, with the final ten laps throwing up a thrilling battle between Charles Leclerc and eventual winner Max Verstappen. But the most impressive performance of the day for me was Lando Norris in the McLaren. The struggles of the iconic team have been well documented and Norris did a fantastic job to take P7 - and nearly snatched P6 from Esteban Ocon at the very death. A good sign for McLaren.
  • Day to forget: Sergio Perez. For the second weekend in a row, Perez was robbed of a podium by circumstances out of his control. If it weren't for his engine failure in Bahrain, and the unfortunate timing of the safety car in Jeddah, he'd be sitting on 40 points, with a race win in the bag, and second in the drivers' championship. Instead, he's on 12 points in seventh in the championship. That's a tough one to take.
  • The big question for Round #3: Will the track changes in Melbourne do their job? The track at Albert Park has been substantially changed for 2022, and the new layout - combined with the new car design - will hopefully lead to far more exciting racing in Australia than we've seen in recent years.

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