Lewis Hamilton admits he hasn’t been at his best for ‘over a YEAR’ after falling from pole to fourth in disappointing Hungarian Grand Prix outing – Maxsports
May 15, 2024

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Lewis Hamilton admits he hasn’t been at his best for ‘over a YEAR’ after falling from pole to fourth in disappointing Hungarian Grand Prix outing

Lewis Hamilton, demoralised by a wine-into-water opening lap, told a brutal one-line truth about himself: ‘I have not been at my best for over a year.’

The self-recrimination came as he finished fourth in the Hungarian Grand Prix after starting on pole. Max Verstappen predictably zoomed away to claim – deep breath – his ninth win in 11 races this season and seventh in succession, and a record consecutive 12 in all for Red Bull.

Across the world, millions went out to mow their lawns.

Lando Norris finished second in a rapidly improving McLaren, as he had at Silverstone a fortnight ago. He is exciting and maturing and smiling, even if his over-exuberant champagne celebrations broke his pal Verstappen’s trophy.

Hamilton’s disappointing start represented a devastating turnaround from the previous afternoon, when he had raided some of the best of his old talents with a scintillating pole lap after a wait of 595 days. 

Lewis Hamilton's Hungarian Grand Prix on Sunday failed to live up to pre-race expectations

Lewis Hamilton’s Hungarian Grand Prix on Sunday failed to live up to pre-race expectations

The British driver started on pole but couldn't hang on to the lead and finished up in fourth

The British driver started on pole but couldn’t hang on to the lead and finished up in fourth

Hamilton thought he was back to his best in qualifying but it didn't transpire in the race

Hamilton thought he was back to his best in qualifying but it didn’t transpire in the race 

It put him on the front row alongside Verstappen. This has not happened since the night of insanity in Abu Dhabi in the concluding round of 2021, the time and place Hamilton’s psyche was so badly bruised. Since then the Briton, fighting his sometimes low spirits and usually unbiddable Mercedes, has not won once. His Dutch vanquisher has prevailed on 24 occasions.

‘I felt as if I was back to my best in qualifying,’ said Hamilton, 38, on Sunday evening. And going into the race, excitement had been palpable, for once.

Could Hamilton hold off Verstappen once the lights went out and make a half-plausible contest of it, at a venue where he had won a record eight times?

Would they play dirty? Neither had anything much to lose, and brought with them more baggage than Joan Collins, so perhaps.

As we know, neither scenario transpired. The first phase of Hamilton’s getaway was brisk, the second one slower relative to the charging Red Bull. The old rivals came close together in the run into the first, tight right-hander. Verstappen pressed his case on the inside, and manoeuvred Hamilton wide in the act, not unfairly.

‘Sorry about that, guys,’ said Hamilton over the radio. He later explained: ‘I got a bit of wheelspin, and was a bit compromised after that.’

His pain was only just beginning. McLaren’s Oscar Piastri calculated that Hamilton was going to be pushed out at that first fateful bend so ducked down the inside. It was a well-executed strike.

Next, Norris went on the outside of Hamilton at Turn 2 and through him on the inside at the following corner. Hamilton had a nibble back. But that was it: in the blink of an eye, the superman of Saturday was lying fourth.

Later in the race, wanting for speed and composure, Hamilton asked if his engine had been turned down. He was informed it hadn’t been. He was actually running at full pelt, but it wasn’t enough as he struggled for balance through his first two stints.

His exasperation continued to express itself over the radio. ‘Why am I losing time?’ he asked before providing his own answer. ‘It’s just the car is slow.’ Later urged by race engineer Peter Bonnington to push, he responded: ‘This is as fast as it goes, mate.’

Yet, yet, there was a silver lining to come on this sweltering day. After stopping on lap 49 of 70, he came out placed fifth. He was six seconds behind Piastri. But eight laps later, he passed the Australian to wrap-up his finishing place.

By this point, Verstappen’s team-mate Sergio Perez had scuttled his way from ninth position to third – a tonic to his confidence after a dismal run of form.

In the end, Norris was 33 seconds behind Verstappen, who increased his championship lead to 110 points. ‘The car is unbelievable,’ rhapsodised the victor afterwards. ‘Unbelievable. I really enjoyed driving it.’

Max Verstappen crosses the finish line as he celebrates another Grand Prix win in Hungary

Max Verstappen crosses the finish line as he celebrates another Grand Prix win in Hungary 

It was Verstappen's ninth win in eleven races for Red Bull as he continues to dominate the grid

It was Verstappen’s ninth win in eleven races for Red Bull as he continues to dominate the grid

What else? Some drama further down the field at the first corner. Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu fell like a stone from a surprise fifth on the grid before running into Daniel Ricciardo’s AlphaTauri. Both Alpines were ensnared, and they retired – the team’s second double DNF in successive races. Zhou was handed a five-second penalty for his recklessness.

Ricciardo, back in the cockpit after eight months out, recovered to finish a creditable 13th, three places ahead of team-mate Yuki Tsunoda, whose race was incident-free.

George Russell atoned for his and the Mercedes’ muddled qualifying performance to rise from 18th to sixth, even passing Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz five laps from the close. ‘Yeah, baby,’ he exclaimed.

As for Verstappen, the Red Bull camp were super-confident pre-race that they possessed superior long-run pace to Hamilton et al. In the double world champion’s hands any advantage is a dangerous weapon. It blows a sniper-rifle hole in any hope of a challenge every weekend, and it only took a few yards here to remind us of the fact.

His only reservation? It was win No 44 – Lewis’s car number. ‘I want to get off that as fast as I can,’ said a smiling Verstappen.

Spa, Belgium, comes next Sunday. Would you bet against it happening there?