Feature: Lewis Hamilton's path to the 2019 Formula 1 title
Lewis Hamilton has been crowned World Champion for a sixth time, with two rounds to spare, to move just one behind Michael Schumacher on the all-time honours list. We take a round-by-round look at his path to the title – and how we viewed the situation in sister publication Motorsport Monday at the time of writing.
Australia | Qualifying P1 | Race P2
Hamilton claimed pole position for a record eighth time around the streets of Albert Park but relinquished the lead of the race to Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas on the opening lap. Bottas went on to dominate, ending a lengthy win drought, while Hamilton battled floor damage that accentuated balance issues with the W10, fending off Max Verstappen to seal a 1-2.
What we said: It’s only the first round of a long, long 21-event season, with another 20 chapters to be formed in what is likely to be an enthralling campaign. For Bottas, though, it couldn’t have started any better.
Bahrain | Qualifying P3 | Race P1
Hamilton dropped to fourth early on but muscled his way past Bottas and then took the fight to Sebastian Vettel, with the Ferrari driver spinning as the World Champion went around the outside of Turn 4. It left Hamilton in position to profit when dominant long-term race leader Charles Leclerc was slowed with a cylinder failure.
What we said: That Leclerc’s nearest opponent, at that point 10 seconds adrift, was Hamilton and not Vettel was a damning on the performance of the four-times World Champion and another feather in the cap of the exceptional five-times World Champion.
China | Qualifying P2 | Race P1
Formula 1 celebrated Grand Prix number 1,000 in China but in a forgettable race Hamilton, who had struggled through practice, passed Bottas at the start and went on to win, sealing back-to-back triumphs, and taking the points lead in the championship for the first time in 2019.
What we said: Whatever happens around the streets of Baku next weekend it will still lead both championships when Formula 1 returns to pre-season test venue Barcelona in May. Already, in April, Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes are in a frighteningly commanding position.
Azerbaijan | Qualifying P2 | Race P2
For the first time in 2019 the pole-sitter won the grand prix, and it was a Mercedes-fest. Bottas repelled a threat from Hamilton through the opening few corners and resisted a late charge to atone for his late 2018 heartbreak. Hamilton took second in a race with few incidents after the madness of the previous two years.
What we said: When the circus departed Barcelona in early March it believed it would be a close-run affair between Mercedes and Ferrari. So far it’s 4-0. If that becomes 5-0 then surely any hope of a two-team title fight will lay in tatters.
Spain | Qualifying P2 | Race P1
Mercedes dominated in Barcelona as Bottas’ qualifying hot-streak continued with an emphatic pole lap. But a slow start, believed to be due to a sticky clutch, derailed his prospects and Hamilton picked up the pieces, cruising clear to record his third Barcelona victory on the bounce.
What we said: Mercedes can already get ready to keep the Constructors’ Championship trophy under lock and key in Brackley for another 12 months. They will not be beaten to this year’s title. Mercedes was once more utterly imperious.
Monaco | Qualifying P1 | Race P1
Mercedes was expected to be the class of the field for once in Monaco, given the different car concept it adopted for 2019, and Hamilton duly delivered, just days after the death of Niki Lauda. He grabbed pole from Bottas with a last-gasp Q3 effort before fending off Verstappen in the race following Mercedes’ strategic error of fitting his car with Mediums rather than the longer-lasting Hards.
What we said: Hamilton had prayed mid-race for a miracle and he hung on to triumph for the third time around the Principality’s streets, as he paid the best possible tribute to the late, great Niki Lauda, sporting the Austrian’s helmet for the 78-lap encounter.
Canada | Qualifying P2 | Race P1
The long straights of Montreal’s Circuit Gilles Villeneuve were expected to suit Ferrari’s SF90 and so it proved as Vettel took his first pole of 2019. In race pace the two teams were equally matched, with Vettel battling excessive fuel consumption, and he made a critical error at two-thirds distance. Stewards deemed he had re-joined unsafely, handed him a penalty, and while it was Vettel P1, Hamilton P2 as they finished, the order was swapped once the sanction was applied.
What we said: For Hamilton, this was a triumph which came off the back of a challenging weekend, and which typified his relentless pursuit of every inch. As in Bahrain, as in Monza last year, a Vettel error was prompted by sustained pressure from Hamilton.
France | Qualifying P1 | Race P1
At a French Grand Prix that raised questions about the health of Formula 1 Hamilton executed a near-perfect weekend, taking a comfortable pole position before cruising clear in race trim to record his second successive Paul Ricard victory, and fourth in a row in 2019.
What we said: When the Hamilton/Mercedes axis works in such a way it is a brutal steamroller that cannot be stopped. Hamilton has won six grands prix this season, including four-in-a-row, and surely already has one hand on the title. Hamilton will be a six-time champion long before the paddock turns up in Abu Dhabi.
Austria | Qualifying P2 | Race P5
The Mercedes juggernaut was brought to a juddering halt as the sweltering Austrian heat hampered the W10’s potential at a venue where Ferrari and Red Bull could flex its muscles. Hamilton qualified second, dropped to fifth due to a grid penalty, and classified there after a subdued race with one or two wide moments.
What we said: Lewis Hamilton had his most subdued race in a year. Hamilton tried extending his first stint and the tactically initially appear promising, but a few too wide moments over the Red Bull Ring’s harsh kerbs proved his undoing. But he still holds a 31-point advantage over Bottas.
Britain | Qualifying P2 | Race P1
Hamilton missed out on pole position to Bottas and an early battle was settled in the latter’s favour. But Hamilton’s one-stop strategy, compared to the two employed by Bottas, facilitated his rise to the lead, assisted by a fortuitously timed Safety Car period. It marked his sixth British Grand Prix victory, which set a new record.
What we said: Hamilton took another stride towards a sixth world title with a record sixth victory at Silverstone, the 80th of his career – at the same venue where Michael Schumacher claimed win number 80 – on a day in which the best of Formula 1 was on display at the fast and flowing venue.
Germany | Qualifying P1 | Race P9
Hamilton claimed pole position after the pace-setting Ferrari pair were both struck by mechanical woes, and led the opening half of a rain-hit race. But Hamilton went off at the penultimate corner, endured an exceptionally long repair job, and later spun through Turn 1. In spite of all the drama Hamilton still classified in ninth.
What we said: A rollercoaster 64-lap race had more twists and turns than some entire seasons as the afternoon’s action kept throwing out shock after shock… even after his worst performance for years there was still a minor positive outcome for Hamilton.
Hungary | Qualifying P3 | Race P1
Hamilton trailed Bottas and first-time pole-sitter Verstappen in qualifying but overhauled his team-mate on the opening lap and embarked on a strategic battle with the Red Bull driver. A later first stop left Hamilton sizing up Verstappen but after being rebuked Mercedes called him in for a second stop. Hamilton carved into Verstappen’s lead thereafter and on fresher rubber grabbed the win with a few laps remaining.
What we said: An inspired strategic call facilitated Hamilton in taking win number eight from 12 of what is surely his charge to a sixth world title. Bottas’ hopes evaporated on a horror show of a first lap, leaving him win-less since April.
Belgium | Qualifying P3 | Race P2
On a weekend overshadowed by the death of Formula 2 racer Anthoine Hubert his close friend Leclerc paid the perfect tribute by claiming his maiden victory. Hamilton, who crashed in FP3, passed Sebastian Vettel and gave chase to Leclerc, finishing within a second of the youngster.
What we said: Hamilton’s second place was nonetheless a strong result in the wider picture. On a weekend in which he was not completely at ease in the W10, crashing in final practice, he still finished within a second of the winner, and extended his title advantage in the process.
Italy | Qualifying P2 | Race P3
Hamilton qualified second, narrowly behind Leclerc, and gave chase in the race. A mistake from Leclerc handed an opportunity to Hamilton, but the Ferrari driver boldly defended, leaving Hamilton with nowhere to go. As Hamilton’s tyres faded he made an error at the chicane and the offset Bottas moved past, sealing Hamilton’s fate on the bottom step of the podium.
What we said: With Leclerc’s well-earned and rapturously received victory came the end of the European season. Ferrari finally has a couple of wins that it can celebrate but Mercedes is still firmly in control of the 2019 Formula 1 title battle.
Singapore | Qualifying P2 | Race P4
Hamilton qualified second, behind Leclerc, and in a grand prix dictated by slow early pace and tyre strategy Hamilton lost out. Mercedes went for the overcut but ultimately had to ask Bottas to slow down to avoid Hamilton being jumped further, having relinquished positions to Vettel and Verstappen, as he classified fourth.
What we said: Hamilton’s title lead over Bottas now stands at a surely insurmountable 65 points but there was frustration at Mercedes not enacting the undercut that he felt would propel him to a third straight Singapore win.
Russia | Qualifying P2 | Race P1
Hamilton split the Ferrari drivers in qualifying but was overhauled at the start by Vettel and held third for the first stint. Hamilton ran long and when Vettel halted due to a power unit problem the Virtual Safety Car allowed Hamilton to pit and emerge ahead of Leclerc, from where he controlled the remainder of the grand prix.
What we said: Hamilton had been gifted a golden opportunity, and took it with both hands, but in qualifying second he had forced Ferrari into a messy team orders scenario, while his supreme pace through the first stint ensured that the Italian marque could never rest, and meant that he was in the pound seats when the VSC was deployed.
Japan | Qualifying P4 | Race P3
For the first time in over a year Hamilton failed to secure a top-three place on the grid, and a poor start briefly dropped him to fifth. The clash between Verstappen and Leclerc meant he wound up third, and after initially attempting a one-stop strategy he was switched to a two-stopper due to higher than expected tyre degradation. Mercedes nonetheless wrapped up the Constructors’ title, with Bottas victorious for the first time since Baku.
What we said: Formula 1’s typhoon-imposed Super Suzuka Sunday could have gone the way of Ferrari but ultimately win number 12 of an enthralling 2019 season fell in Mercedes’ direction, and ensured this team will be regarded as the greatest there has ever been.
Mexico | Qualifying P3 | Race P1
Hamilton endured a fraught opening lap as he avoided contact from Vettel and brushed wheels with Verstappen, falling to fifth, sustaining floor damage in the process. Mercedes took a risky strategy by making an early switch from Mediums to Hards but the approach paid off as the durability of the compound facilitated Hamilton in rising to the lead, where he remained.
What we said: Hamilton picked up win number 10 and while title celebrations remained on ice, he is highly likely to depart Austin with a sixth championship under his belt