Formula 1: Lewis Hamilton’s key weakness was exposed in Austria

The key weakness that may very well keep Lewis Hamilton from the Formula 1 GOAT discussion was exposed in the Austrian Grand Prix.Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport’s Lewis Hamilton is hot on the trail of Michael Schumacher when it comes to the all-time Formula 1 wins and championships records.

With 79 career Formula 1 victories, Hamilton sits in second place on the all-time wins list behind Schumacher, who earned 91. With five career championships, Hamilton sits in a second place tie on the all-time wins list with Juan Manuel Fangio behind Schumacher, who won seven.

Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 W10 and Charles Leclerc (MON) Ferrari SF90 leave the pits. Batchelor / XPB Images

Hamilton is working his way into the discussion as Formula 1’s greatest driver of all time, but there are a few things that may keep him from being anything more than an also-ran in this discussion when his career has concluded.

One of those things was exposed in this past Sunday’s Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring.

It’s no secret that Mercedes have been the top team in Formula 1 since the start of the V6 turbo hybrid era in the 2014 season and that 57 of Hamilton’s 79 victories have come during this era. This alone prevents a lot of people from truly considering the 34-year-old Briton as Formula 1’s GOAT, but this was not just exposed on Sunday. This has been common knowledge for more than half of the last decade.

What was exposed on Sunday is how Hamilton drives not only when Mercedes don’t have the quickest cars but how he drives when he isn’t leading, and it isn’t exactly what you’d call a “masterclass”, which is what everyone continuously referred to his recent dominant French Grand Prix victory as.

Excluding the struggling Pierre Gasly of Aston Martin Red Bull Racing, Hamilton finished this 71-lap race around the 10-turn, 2.683-mile (4.318-kilometer) Red Bull Ring road course in Spielberg, Styria, Austria as the “worst of the best”, meaning the worst of the Mercedes, Scuderia Ferrari and Red Bull Racing drivers in fifth place after starting in fourth, and he finished 22.805 seconds behind the race leader.

Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who has been known to cave under pressure late in races, especially when it comes to Hamilton, even passed Hamilton for fourth place on the race’s penultimate lap, although he did have the advantage of newer tires. That said, he also did so after making up a full pit stop of a gap.

This leads to one question.

Other than into the first corner on the first lap of a race, when is the last time Hamilton passed a non-disabled car on the track for the lead before going on to win the race?

That was Hamilton’s 68th career victory. He now has 79.

Also worth noting is the fact that this is the only race during which he has pulled this off since the 2018 season began, and since the 2018 season began, he has added 17 victories to his win total.

Hamilton’s winning passes involving disabled cars since the 2018 season began include his pass of teammate Valtteri Bottas to win last year’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix when Bottas had a flat tire as well as his pass of Bottas to win last year’s Russian Grand Prix when Mercedes ordered Bottas to let Hamilton pass him.

They also include his pass of Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen to win last year’s Brazilian Grand Prix when Verstappen was hit by Racing Point driver and Mercedes junior driver Esteban Ocon as well as his pass of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc to win this year’s Bahrain Grand Prix when Leclerc’s engine failed.

Hamilton and Verstappen

As we saw in this race, it’s almost like Hamilton is completely different driver when he’s not 10 seconds ahead of the rest of the field. What he has done once in the last two seasons is done pretty much every race in other top series such as IndyCar and NASCAR.

No wonder he refuses to compete in the Indianapolis 500…

This is not meant to take anything away from the dominance that Lewis Hamilton has generally displayed when he has won Formula 1 races, especially since his record pole position total of 86 is 18 pole positions clear of the second place total.

However, it shows that he can be beaten on Sundays. The problem is, to really beat him, he needs to be beaten on Saturdays, and he happens to be the greatest qualifier in Formula 1 history. But when he is beaten on Saturdays, it makes Sundays an entirely new game.