A fourth world championship title eluded Lewis Hamilton in 2016. While technical trouble made it difficult for him to hold onto his crown, this was by no means un-winnable.
|Beat team mate in qualifying||12/20|
|Beat team mate in race||10/19|
|Laps spent ahead of team mate||637/1186|
One of the keys to Hamilton’s downfall was evident right from the start of the season. Literally: he lost the lead from pole position at the start in Australia, and with that the first of many chances to beat Nico Rosberg had gone.
The situation was repeated in Bahrain and this time the consequence of Hamilton’s poor getaway was exacerbated by contact with Valtteri Bottas. Both Mercedes drivers made poor starts at times during 2016 but Hamilton took longer to get on top of his which meant more damage was done.
Stuttering getaways at Monza and, finally, Suzuka, dealt heavy blows to his championship hopes. Again he made it onto the podium both times but again Rosberg took a maximum score. Japan proved a decisive moment: beyond that point the title was Rosberg’s to lose.
With the championship eventually being decided by just five points, had Hamilton kept Rosberg behind on any one of these four occasions the title would have been his. Likewise his qualifying crash in Baku and underwhelming performance in Singapore can all be said, in retrospect, to have been as decisive as his various power unit failures.
Despite these various setbacks Hamilton drove the better season by the strongest measures: He had more wins, more pole positions and spent more laps in front of Rosberg than behind him. He produced some fine drives along the way, particularly over the final four races, and winning all three of the season’s wet races in style while Rosberg floundered.
But at times it was as if Hamilton had let his guard slip. Perhaps in nine seasons out of ten he would have got away with it, but with Rosberg having raised his game just a little even Hamilton’s flawless end to the season but wasn’t enough to stop the title slipping away.
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Proved to be one of the faster drivers in the season, dominated many races and race weekends.
But his attitude outside of the car hurt him more than it did Rosberg and I think that Rosberg ended up winning the championship because he didn’t let Hamilton’s antics get to him.
What’s your verdict on Lewis Hamilton’s 2016 season? Which drivers do you feel he performed better or worse than? Have your say in the comments.
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The F1 Fanatic Driver Rankings are produced by referring to:
- Race-by-race notes on how they performed (see below)
- How well they performed compared to their team mate
- How competitive their car was
- Other data on the 2016 season
View race-by-race notes on Lewis Hamilton
Australia – This weekend was a bit like Hungary last year for Hamilton in that he appeared to have everything under control until the lights went out on Sunday. He topped the times throughout practice and qualifying, but had wheelspin at the start and lost further places after Rosberg but him up at turn one. Having fallen to sixth, he pounced on a chance to pass Massa but found Verstappen hard to pass. The delay meant he dropped more than a pit stop behind Vettel at one stage, but the stoppage allowed him to regain lost ground. He had to follow the Toro Rossos for a while, but once they pitted he shot past Ricciardo with DRS and Vettel’s extra pit stop moved him up to second.
Bahrain – Said his pole position lap was his first clean lap of the weekend – although he did top the times in Q2 as well. His start wasn’t up to scratch again but Bottas did the most damage to his race by clattering into him. Carried floor damage for the rest of the race which probably cost him a few tenths more than his 0.195s lap time deficit to Rosberg. Third was probably the best the car could do given that.
China – A handful of off-track moments indicated he was less than happy with the car on Friday. But he might as well have stayed in bed on Saturday as a power unit fault wrecked his qualifying attempt. After picking up front wing damage in the first corner melee Hamilton was still in 21st place when the race restarted. Racing a wounded car once again – Hamilton suspected damage to his suspension as well as aerodynamics, and said the W07 “seemed to be flexing all over the place” – he nonetheless got stuck into the midfield and ran as high as third at one point. However he was forced to use medium tyres for his final stint which confined him to seventh place.
Russia – Despite a few spins on Friday – shades of Shanghai – Hamilton headed the times at the end of the day. He was in the hunt for pole position until a power unit problem struck him down – he also picked up his second reprimand of the year in the same session. Made a slightly slow getaway but avoided the turn two chaos, profiting to the tune of five places. Passes on Raikkonen and the Williams drivers moved him up to second, but a water pressure problem kept him from chasing down Rosberg.
Spain – Looked out of sorts in practice, complaining about tyre pressures, but moved towards Rosberg’s set-up in time for qualifying. After a stumble on his first lap in Q3 he produced a superb lap to take pole position. When Rosberg came at him at turn one on the opening lap Hamilton naturally covered the inside line, though it proved in vain. It’s therefore surprising he expected Rosberg to leave the inside unprotected at turn four – he didn’t, and the pair crashed.
Monaco – “My final attempt was what should have been my banker lap,” said Hamilton after missing his first run in Q3 due to a fuel pressure problem and qualifying behind Rosberg. He was clearly furious after his third technical problem during qualifying in the last four races. When Rosberg waved him by on lap 15 he was 14 seconds behind Ricciardo, a deficit he trimmed by just over a second in the course of the next six laps. What really brought him back into contention was staying off the intermediate tyres, saving a visit to the pits, which put him in position to benefit from Ricciardo’s slow stop and take the win.
Canada – Having been comfortably quickest on Friday Hamilton looked less assured on Saturday and admitted his fifth pole in Canada was not one of his finest laps. He made another indifferent start, losing out to Vettel, and kept Rosberg behind firmly but legally. When Ferrari let victory slip through their fingers Hamilton was perfectly placed to collect it.
Europe – Looked utterly in control throughout practice which made his haphazard qualifying performance all the more baffling. He lined up tenth after crashing in Q3, held his place at the start but then began to pick off his rivals including the fast Williams of Bottas. His progress was then delayed by an engine problem which was solved by a switch change after around 15 laps, though by then he was confined to fifth.
Austria – Having been off his team mate’s pace on Friday he sussed the drying conditions magnificently in qualifying to claim pole position. He was on course for a straightforward win when a slow pit stop dropped him behind his team mate. An attacking strategy change put him on Rosberg’s tail in the closing laps, and he’d lined the other Mercedes up for a last-lap pass when Rosberg shoved him wide. He survived the contact and took a deserved, gritty win.
Britain – Headed all three practice sessions and smashed the track record on his way to pole position. The only wrinkle on Saturday was losing his first Q3 time to a track limits violation. He was mighty in the rain, streaking away from Rosberg and able to start nursing his engine long before the chequered flag appeared.
Hungary – A crash early in second practice compromised his race preparation. He nearly missed the cut for the top ten shoot-out after a mistake in Q2, but he would probably have been on pole position had it not been for an unfortunately-timed yellow flag. The race went better: he made one of his better starts this year to take the lead and successfully kept Rosberg at bay, though at times it was clear he was maintaining a very steady pace which almost prompted his team to switch their strategies.
Germany – Was clearly unhappy with being beaten to pole position by Rosberg after locking up at the Spitzkehre. But Hamilton showed again he has got on top of the problems he experienced with his starts at the beginning of the year and took the lead as soon as the lights went out. As early as lap two he had the engine turned down as he cruised to victory.
Belgium – On Saturday evening Toto Wolff said that in light of the unusual conditions at Spa it might have been better for the team to wait until Monza to perform Hamilton’s engine change. He had cause to revise that opinion after Sunday’s incident-packed race where Hamilton took advantage of errors, crashes and – crucially – a mid-race stoppage to deliver third place. The latter gave him a free pit stop which helped cement his position in the top five, from where he easily passed Alonso and Hulkenberg. His stints weren’t quite as good as Rosberg’s, though.
Italy – Didn’t repeat his 2015 clean sweep of practice sessions but came close, and took pole with an impressive margin of almost half a second over Rosberg. According to Mercedes his stockpile of extra power unit components has not handed him a decisive performance advantage over Rosberg and the speed trap figures seem to bear that out: Hamilton was 2.5kph faster than Rosberg which bears comparison with what we’ve seen at other tracks this year. It all went wrong on Sunday when he started poorly, again. Although he passed Ricciardo and Bottas with little difficulty, and jumped the Ferraris with even greater ease, he couldn’t push on the tyres enough to catch Rosberg.
Singapore – A hydraulic problem in second practice limited the amount of race preparation he was able to do. A suspension problem was fixed on his car overnight but he never managed to bounce back from his Friday setback. In final practice he was having difficulty getting the car stopped at turn seven and he lost out to Ricciardo as well as Rosberg in qualifying. Matters scarcely improve in the race as another error at turn seven dropped him behind Raikkonen. At least an aggressive change in strategy helped him get back on the podium.
Japan – Mere hundredths off Rosberg on Friday, Hamilton said he’d been pursuing a different set-up direction which he gave up on before qualifying. He was quickest on the first runs in Q3 but Rosberg shaded him by 13 thousandths of a second on their final run. That left Hamilton on the slightly damp side of the grid for the start, though he said that didn’t cause his subsequent poor getaway. His recovery from eighth place was pretty much faultless – he seized every opportunity to gain a position, excerpt perhaps when he got Verstappen on the defence starting the final lap.
Malaysia – In top form on Saturday, his first lap in Q3 easily good enough to beat Rosberg even though a mistake forced him to abandon his last run. He started cleanly and edged clear of Ricciardo, though Verstappen led for a while after making a pit stop under the Virtual Safety Car. That might have made the latter phase of the race more interesting for Hamilton had he got there, but his engine had other ideas.
United States – Wasn’t happy with one of his set-up changes on Friday but produced the goods on Saturday, when a superb run through sector one secured his first pole position at the Circuit of the Americas. He said he’d done his homework on his starts and it showed: he led the field to turn one and from there on never looked like losing. He was clearly driving well within himself, but nor did he buckle under the championship pressure.
Mexico – Quick on Friday, though fractionally out-paced by Vettel. He was consistently ahead of Rosberg in qualifying on both types of tyre and duly took pole position. A glazed front brake caused him to lock up at turn one, an error which would have been more costly if the run-off area wasn’t so generous. From then on it was fairly straightforward for Hamilton although he had to change his engine settings when Mercedes detected high exhaust temperatures.
Brazil – Rosberg kept him honest in the fight for pole but Hamilton prevailed. He was at his imperious best in the race, effortlessly quicker than Rosberg. Factor out the stoppages and he’d have finished 35 seconds up the road instead of 11.
Abu Dhabi – Started on the right foot by leading Rosberg in both Friday sessions, despite a brief spin in first practice. He was imperious in qualifying, setting a pace Rosberg simply couldn’t match. Delaying Rosberg was obviously the correct tactics; the argument he should have driven off and left things alone behind him is unrealistic. So why didn’t it work? Hamilton said slowing Rosberg down any more would have been dangerous, but it appeared he was too cautious about preserving his own position to really jeopardise Rosberg’s. He needed to to push things to the limit, putting himself at risk of being overtaken, and it seemed he couldn’t bring himself to do that.
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