Race Weekend Central

Lewis Hamilton Shown Blue Flags in Imola, Made to Let Max Verstappen pass

Max Verstappen ended the 2021 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix on top of the world. He stole the lead from title rival Lewis Hamilton off the line, and won the race by a 22-second margin over Hamilton following a string of misfortune for the Briton.

Despite the unfortunate race for Hamilton, he would have been a real contender for the win over Verstappen had it not been for his own bad luck.

If the 2021 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix was a tragic comedy for Hamilton, the 2022 Imola round was a fresh chapter in an ongoing nightmare known as 2022.

He ended it lapped.

Mercedes is clearly off the pace this year, to put it diplomatically.

Hamilton and freshman George Russell are nowhere near the pace their team’s dominant history would suggest, and many observers are far from convinced Toto Wolff and team leadership are prepared to face this matter head on.

Hamilton snuck in a surprising podium in Bahrain, owing to shock retirements late in the race from both Red Bull cars. However, Russell has outpaced Hamilton in every round since.

Hamilton was eliminated in Q1 in Saudi Arabia while neither Mercedes car advanced to Q3 in Imola. Those were two facts that seemed unspeakable this time last year as Verstappen and Hamilton were squaring off in a historic championship battle.

Imola comes as the low point of 2022 for Hamilton. While Russell finished fourth in Italy, after fending off Mercedes alum Valtteri Bottas, Hamilton spent the last quarter of the race chewing at the heels of Pierre Gasly with no success.

The seven-time champion threw his best at Gasly, but couldn’t get by as Verstappen was comfortably cruising in the lead, upward of 10 seconds clear of second place.

With Gasly unwilling to give Hamilton any breathing room, lap 41 added insult to injury for Mercedes.

After all the controversy, the venom shot back and forth between Mercedes and Red Bull, the epic title fight between Verstappen and Hamilton which defined the 2021 season, Hamilton was shown the blue flag and made to let Verstappen through. It’s a fact that would have read more like a conspiracy theory just six months ago.

Hamilton soldiered on but could do no better than 13th by race’s end. Had Hamilton managed to get past the AlphaTauri, he would have been credited with a 12th-place finish, which would have still been his worst result (barring retirements) since the 2021 Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Hamilton recently admitted that in the team’s current state, the Mercedes squad is essentially playing damage control, with its drivers having little to do other than hope the team can rescue their fortune from the harsh reality of this year’s new regulations.

That much was evident on the cool down lap.

“Sorry for what you have to drive today… I know this is undrivable,” Toto Wolff confessed to his driver.

“Yeah, no worries, Toto…” was the best Hamilton could offer.

Speaking during the Sky Sports post-race show, Wolff shed further light on the team’s current state. “We are not good enough for a world champion,” he explained. “We are not worthy of a world champion, we just need to fix the car.”

Mercedes decisively owned the hybrid era of F1, displaying absolute dominance over the sport from 2014 through the 2021 season. Only time will tell how the sport’s reigning constructor’s champions will manage to stay afloat in the ever-competitive midfield of this racing series.

See also
Max Verstappen, Red Bull Dominate Imola While Ferrari Struggles At Home

About the author

Alex is the IndyCar Content Director at Frontstretch, having initially joined as an entry-level contributor in 2021. He also serves as Managing Director of The Asia Cable, a publication focused on the international affairs and politics of the Asia-Pacific region which he co-founded in 2023. With previous experience in China, Japan and Poland, Alex is particularly passionate about the international realm of motorsport and the politics that make the wheels turn - literally - behind the scenes.

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Hamilton’s “struggles” this year reinforces my belief that a driver’s success depends solely on the car he is driving.


As someone who’s been crewing for race teams for close to 30 years, I’ll say there’s some truth to that. But I have seen good drivers perform well in bad cars, while I’ve rarely seen bad drivers do well in good cars. I have to believe that Mazepin would have spun just as often last year, driving a Mercedes, as he did driving the Haas. While it’s unlikely Hamilton would have spun once.

Last edited 1 year ago by gbvette

Here’s what I have believed and stated for years:

A good driver in a good car will win races, a good driver in a bad car will do better than the car deserves and a bad driver in a good car is still a bad driver. There are examples of each, especially the last one..

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