Lewis Hamilton jokes about the worst thing to happen post-Abu Dhabi 2021

Michelle Foster
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton attends media day at the Belgian Grand Prix. Spa-Francorchamps, August 2022.

Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton attends media day at the Belgian Grand Prix. Spa-Francorchamps, August 2022.

Lewis Hamilton not only had to deal with losing the 2021 World title in controversial circumstances but then he had to deal with that “big ugly” No.1 sitting on the grid all season.

And it’s as “big as you could put it”, he said with a laugh.

12 months ago on this day Hamilton was romping towards a record-breaking eighth World title, the Mercedes driver seconds ahead of Max Verstappen in the winner-takes-all Abu Dhabi season finale.

Then there was a late Safety Car and it changed everything, including the outcome of the race and the championship fight.

Then race director Michael Masi made the unprecedented call to allow only some cars, the ones between race leader Hamilton and second placed Verstappen, to unlap themselves. That was just five of the eight, the others not given the go-ahead.

Hamilton on 40-odd lap old tyres was a sitting duck against Verstappen and his newer soft tyres, the Red Bull driver attacking into Turn Five to take the lead, the race win and the World title.

Unlike Hamilton, the new World Champion opted to put the number ‘1’ on his car rather than stick to his race number of 33.

“It was definitely not easy, I think,” Hamilton recalled to Sky F1 as he lined up on this year’s grid having lost the title to Verstappen.

“I think it’s more the the big ugly number one, as big as you could put it, on the car.

“Nah I’m kidding, I’m not really fazed by any of these things as much as some people like to think . They’ll say things, and do things hoping for a reaction but I’m really just some chilled, I don’t really care about those things.”

Alas for Hamilton, 2022 did not give him the opportunity to fight back as Mercedes lost the first half of the season to their porpoising problems while Verstappen romped to a second World title.

It was the first time in 16 seasons that Hamilton went without a single race win.

“Of course I would love to have been at the forefront, fighting and battling with them,” he added. “It’s been an interesting journey seeing what they’ve been going through.

“So again, just turning whatever negative feeling I have, I try to take it, brush it aside and move forward.”

And move forward is exactly what Mercedes and their fans are hoping for next season, which as things stand is Hamilton’s last under contract with Mercedes.

The Briton and his team boss Toto Wolff are, however, expected to thrash out a new deal over the winter. It’s in sharp contrast to last winter when fans, and pundits alike, weren’t sure Hamilton would ever again step foot in the Formula 1 paddock.

The seven-time World Champion says it was the outpouring of support that kept him going after Abu Dhabi.

“I was definitely not expecting the what would come after in terms of the amazing support from the fans of the sport but particularly my fans and the general love that I have experienced through the year,” he said.

That’s, I think, is what’s got me through the year of the challenge, of coming back here and wanting to fight back but not being able to fight back with the car that we have.

“And then on the same weekend even though you’re finishing maybe sixth, fight for your fifth whatever it is, and the amazing support we’ve had through the year, bigger crowds than ever before.

“I think us as a team we’ve experienced more love and affection from people than ever before. And I think that’s been really, really beautiful to see.

“In general, I can’t say in general, but I know some people in life struggle to accept love. I’ve definitely been someone that’s been like that for a long time.

“And so this year was one that I was able to be able to, like open up a little bit more and absorb it and that’s really been a beautiful experience. So I’m really really grateful for that.”

Read more: Read more: Abu Dhabi, one year on: Why Formula 1 was the real loser