Lewis Hamilton has admitted to questioning whether the uncompetitiveness of the last two years at times can come down to ‘is it me, or is it the car?’
The seven-time World Champion has endured the first two winless seasons of his career since Formula 1’s move to ground effect aerodynamics in 2022, with Mercedes having taken a development direction that has not matched up to Red Bull’s speed.
Team principal Toto Wolff acknowledged Mercedes will have to climb a metaphorical “Mount Everest” to match the current dominant force in Formula 1 next season, but even so, Hamilton has admitted to questioning at times whether or not his team’s deficit has been down to himself or his machinery.
Lewis Hamilton admits to moments of wondering ‘is it me, or is it the car?’
Hamilton was out-scored in the Drivers’ Championship by George Russell in 2022, but since retook the advantage in the Mercedes camp this time around – finishing 59 points clear of his younger team-mate come the end of 2023.
With six podiums and a pole position on his way to third in the Drivers’ Championship and the highest-placed of the non-Red Bull drivers in the standings, that has not stopped the 38-year-old from the “human” instinct of wondering whether or not the toughness of the season was in part down to himself as well as the car.
“Ultimately, when you have difficult seasons like this, there are always going to be moments when you’re like: ‘Is it me, or is it the car? Do you still have it? Has it gone?” Hamilton questioned to BBC Sport.
“Because you’re missing that, you know… when the magic happens, when everything comes together, the car and you, and that spark, it’s extraordinary. And that’s what you’re in the search for.
“I’m only human. If anyone in the world tells you they don’t have those things, they’re in denial. We’re all human beings.”
Hamilton’s new Mercedes contract that he penned earlier in the season will extend his stay in the sport beyond his 40th birthday, which he himself had not envisaged happening as little as five years ago.
He admitted that whatever happens from here is a no-win situation for him, given that a rise back to the top is expected from the sport’s most statistically successful driver ever.
“What you’ve got to learn is you should never say never,” he said of changing his mind regarding staying in Formula 1 beyond the age of 40.
“But at that point, I definitely didn’t think I’d be continuing. They are frickin’ long seasons. It’s a long time away from everyone. I’ve been doing it 16 years. It’s gruelling.
“There’s a lot of glitz and glamour and lots of positives but it’s by no means easy to stay at your best, to stay committed, to keep up the training, to continue to deliver. It’s a lot of pressure.
“You’re being scrutinised all the time and I’m in a place in my life where there’s no way I can win.
“If I win a race, it’s: ‘Oh, he’s a seven-time World Champion, you got 103 wins.’ If I don’t do well, it’s [criticism]… I can only lose at this point in life. So for sure there was a period of time when I was questioning whether I wanted to go through that.
“I still love driving. I still love getting into the car. When they start the car up and you have all those people around you, the crew, you go down the pit lane, I still get this smile on my face the same as I did the first day I drove.”