As Formula 1 gets its feet back on European soil for the Spanish Grand Prix next week, the lingering issues of Ferrari’s upgrades, Red Bull’s pace, Mercedes struggles and yes, Lewis’s jewelry are on everyone’s minds.
Speaking of Lewis Hamilton, it’s been a difficult start the season for him. His teammate, George Russell, has had the measure of him—regardless of the reasons, that’s what the math says—and while that would normally be very praise-worthy from team boss Toto Wolff, he’s been relatively mum about George’s pace but doubled down on trying to help Lewis remain positive despite a car that is a real challenge.
Many wonder if Lewis has lost his edge but there’s more to it than just having an edge to you. It’s the car—which for the past 8 years Hamilton fans have played down in favor of ascribing his immense talent as the reason for 8 constructor’s titles—the team and talent on that team, the mental space Lewis is in and many other factors beyond his control.
In time, all champions lose that edge and age has a lot to do with it. Is F1 a young man’s sport? Not if you read about Juan Manuel Fangio but those were different days. Today, it is a young sport as evidenced by Max Verstappen, Lando Norris, George Russell, Charles Leclerc, Carlos Sainz, Pierre Gasly, Alex Albon, Esteban Ocon, Mick Schumacher, Yuki Tsunoda, and Zho Guanyu.
If you consider Lewis, Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo, Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen (last year), Valtteri Bottas, and Sergio Perez, the older class is, well, getting older. None of them are battling at the sharp end of the grid and is that also because they’ve lost their edge? I doubt it. They, like Lewis, have many things contributing to their challenges of fighting at the front of the grid.
However, there is no doubt that at some point in time, there is always a changing of the guard. Senna could feel it coming, Prost felt it, Schumacher experienced it, Alonso could see it and eventually Lewis will know it as well. Is that time now? Maybe not but former F1 driver Jacky Ickx said:
“Age is incredibly important in racing,” Ickx told Rick Winkelman of the Ziggo Race Cafe. “You can’t beat a Verstappen, Leclerc or Norris if you are already over your top.”
“Once you weaken, it’s very fast. Much harder than the rate at which you grow.
“What is important is that he still wants to fight. He will definitely win some more races, but he doesn’t have the time on his side.”
He’s right, Lewis doesn’t have time on his side. Every person feels this moment at one time or another whether they are an F1 driver, Indycar driver, IMSA driver, banker, farmer, lawyer, plumber or any other occupation that time erodes. Unlike other trades, F1 as well as other sports are typically much quicker to reach that pivotal point. That’s why sports stars demand such high wages. The time for their total earning potential is much shorter than, say, a loan manager at a bank.
Lewis also got embroiled in a row with the FIA over jewelry and he has until the end of May to decide if he’s going to remove his jewelry for the Monaco Grand Prix or face fines or worse. The rule has been on the books for a long time but hasn’t been enforced previously. With a new president comes a new focus and safety is chief among them it would seem.
While the media and fans seem miffed about making such an issue over jewelry, Lewis may not have 100% support in the paddock with McLaren boss Andreas Seidl saying:
“From drivers and also from the media side. In the end, it’s a rule that has been in place for I don’t know how many years,” Seidl told Motorsport-Total. “If you have worked in other categories, it’s not even a discussion.
“If you don’t like to take off your jewelry or if you don’t want to put the fireproof underwear on you just don’t drive, it’s quite straightforward and simple.”
Now, that may sound harsh but keep in mind, this is a blood sport and there are few friends amongst competitors. From the other team’s perspective, Seeing Lewi struggle in his Mercedes or entertaining the thought of him not driving is good for your team. Especially when you are battling Mercedes for best-of-the-rest.
FIA president Mohammed ben Sulayem confirmed that fines may be the result of defying the rule.
“That’s up to him. There are fines that apply,” he told the Daily Mail. “It’s like if someone speeds on the roads – you can’t stop them doing it but they get fined, even if it was accidental.
“You can’t let people off because they are your friends. There has to be one rule for all, and that’s that.” He added: “I love jewelry.
“I absolutely love it. But in the car there can be no choice. People say they (the rules) haven’t been implemented before. Don’t ask me why not.
“People can ask the old regime why that is the case.”
Andreas is right, other racing categories aren’t even having this discussion because that’s the rule.
So the debate continues about Lewis’s jewelry and whether or not he’s lost his “edge”. I don’t think Lewis has lost his edge nor am I worked up about the jewelry regulation—although I think he needs to follow it because that’s the rule and if you are setting an example for young talent coming into the sport, then perhaps it’s the right thing to do.
Whether Lewis is falling out of love with the sport, I don’t know. I will say that I get the feeling that F1 is getting to the point where it’s about done with Lewis Hamilton. There isn’t the universal paddock accolades, apart from Toto Wolff, that were so prevalent. His comments about the sport and in the paddock seem different these days, and the sport seems to have moved its focus to the young guns who have things well in hand. I got this same feeling when the conversation stopped being about Schumacher and was focused on Alonso.
Leclerc leading the championship in a resurgent Ferrari with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen chasing with massive pace and prey drive. Lando Norris managing his veteran teammate and leading McLaren’s new future with some brilliant performances. Carlos Sainz digging in and trying to stay with his teammate. Pierre Gasly trying to find a new home at a top team. George Russell unseating a world champ in a team that has stubbed its toe in a very serious way in 2022 and doing so with little public support from his boss.
The world’s gaze is not being viewed through the Lewis Hamilton lens like it used to be. That happens. The world used to view F1 through the Schumacher lens and the Senna lens before that. It used to be focused on Alonso and then Lewis. Now it is focused the young drivers who grew up karting together and that is normal.