Simply looking at this season’s statistics, it would be easy to conclude that, at the age of 37, Lewis Hamilton’s pace is finally diminishing.
Only once in five race weekends in 2022 has he got the better of his new teammate George Russell leaving him nearly a full grand prix victory – an unthinkable goal at present for Mercedes – behind in the points standings.
But his former team boss Ross Brawn believes his approach this season has merely cemented his status as one of the sport’s all-time greats.
“These first few races he’s been looking for the solutions and, in doing so, he’s been ping-ponging around with different set-ups on the car, trying to reach the solutions,” said Formula 1’s managing director of racing. “He’s probably sacrificing the races in a way to try to get the information and data that the team can use to solve the problem.
“That’s the feedback I get from the team while George is following a more conventional path… and Lewis is trying to set out to solve the problem. That’s why I think people saying George has outqualified and outraced him in the last few races can’t see the bigger picture.”
Despite everything Hamilton has thrown at the Mercedes, it hasn’t worked. The long-time frontrunners are some way off the pace of the top two in Ferrari and Red Bull but Brawn is confident his former charge won’t walk away from the sport as some have suggested.
“Amid all the glitz and the glamour, you still have a very determined racing driver,” he said. “He’s still supremely fit and capable. I’m pretty certain he wants to win that eighth championship and, if not this year as looks likely, then next year.
“I don’t know enough about what Mercedes’ issues are to know if they can be fixed with the concept of car they have or whether they have to review the concept. They’ll sort it out I’m sure… but it’s obviously very fragile what they’re dealing with.”
Of all the drivers on the grid, Hamilton remains comfortably the biggest draw. On Instagram, he has nearly more followers than the five drivers ahead of him in the championship combined.
Brawn readily admits the Mercedes driver is only getting more important to the sport but believes it is approaching a golden era with the battle between Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc, and the likes of Lando Norris and George Russell climbing up the grid.
“We’ve been blessed with great young drivers,” he said. “We want 20 of the best drivers in Formula 1. We don’t want drivers who have bought their way in.
“In my time, this is the strongest the sport has been in depth. I don’t think Formula 1 has ever been as strong as it is now.”
But leading into this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix, he argues it could become better yet. This season is part one in Formula 1 and the FIA’s attempts to improve the race with the regulations overhaul as well as the ever-diminishing budget cap.
“Mercedes, Ferrari or Red Bull can’t pour another £100million into the F1 programme and disappear down the road,” he said. “And I believe we’ll get more teams competitive. We’re making the sport much more competitive throughout.”
While the racing at the front of the grid was not the most scintillating at the last race in Miami – Verstappen won with ease – there were still 45 overtaking manoeuvres, second only to Bahrain this season.
Brawn is adamant F1 cannot rest on its laurels and must look to improve further. Its expansion plans in the US in terms of races looks set to stop with the addition of Las Vegas next year, although there are talks ongoing over a race in South Africa.
In addition, there are discussions about Porsche, Audi and Andretti being added to the grid. Audi and Porsche look likely to do so as partners to existing teams to test the water while Andretti want a grid slot outright. For now, Brawn argues 10 teams and 20 cars seem about the right balance and that adding any newcomers cannot “be to the detriment of the existing teams”.
Other tweaks include doubling the three sprint races this season to six next season, which looks on the verge of being signed off following a row with the FIA.
There are suggestions relations between the FIA and Formula 1 are fraught but Brawn says simply that “I think we have a very good symbiotic relationship” and that the new FIA president, Mohammed bin Sulayem replacing Brawn’s former Ferrari ally Jean Todt, needs the time.
“It’s a new president I think he’s finding his feet,” said Brawn. ‘In finding his feet, he wants to understand how things are done, why they’re done and he wants to be part of the process so obviously with the past president we have a long relationship so it’s the process of establishing a relationship with a new president. I don’t see any issues long term. We just need to find our equilibrium.”
How dearly Hamilton would like to do the same with his porpoising car this weekend.