Lewis Hamilton reckons his 2016 Formula 1 season was “a year of growth” after losing out in the world championship fight with his former teammate Nico Rosberg.
The British driver, who is entering his 11th year in F1, lost out to Rosberg by just five points following a tense season finale in Abu Dhabi. Rosberg retired from F1 just five days later, depriving Hamilton of the chance to get even and regain his title from his long time rival.
In an interview with the latest edition of F1 Racing magazine, Hamilton critically appraised his season and singled out his starts as an area that cost him dearly in his fight with Rosberg, which was also hampered by reliability issues at key moments throughout the year.
He said: “It wasn’t a spectacular year to be honest, which is kind of crazy when you see that I had so many wins. It was still a successful year for the team in that we won the constructors’ championship again, but 2016 was not the greatest year for me with the drivers’ championship and my starts. But it has been a year of growth. I’m still fighting; still pushing.”
It is interesting that he highlights his race starts, which certainly cost him points last season; but also as the starts are even more in the hands of the driver this season, with changes to the rules on torque control, which must be 100% controlled by the driver, with no presets on the steering wheel.
Despite losing the 2016 title to Rosberg, Hamilton vowed to “bounce back” as he described the workload that drivers need to put in to be successful in modern F1.
He said: “It was a very trying year and one of the most challenging years for me on a personal level with things weighing heavy on my heart. I think people take for granted that we’re wealthy and successful and make lots of money and that it’s easy, but they don’t realise how hard we work.
“It doesn’t matter how much money you make; it doesn’t mean that you don’t work hard. Our engineers work incredibly hard and the weekends are the most intense – 20 incredible weekends. Formula 1 is just so technical right now that you need to be on it, on it, on it, on it, on it – mentally and physically.
“So yeah, 2016 was up and down, but I’m glad I’m strong enough to bounce back from lots of different scenarios and I take those strengths and those positives from race to race. I genuinely leave the negatives behind and just take the positives.”
The 2016 season was a negative chapter in Hamilton’s ultra-successful history. He did score 12 poles and 10 wins (to Rosberg’s eight and nine), but he lost out to a team-mate for the only the second time in his F1 career over the course of the season – something that will have hurt given his competitive nature. Rosberg’s retirement also robbed him of the chance to win back the world title in a new car and new season.
So what can we expect from Hamilton in 2017? He has already spoken openly about Ferrari being favourites heading to Australia after winter testing, but many observers still expect Mercedes to be the team to beat when the engine modes are turned up to the maximum for qualifying in Melbourne.
If Mercedes has maintained its place at the head of the F1 grid – and our analysis of Ferrari’s long run pace shows, this may not be case – then the 32-year-old will surely start the season as the favourite to win his fourth world championship.
But, should he achieve that goal, will he continue along the lines of Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher, or will he follow Rosberg into retirement? Mercedes’ management, who have only handed new signing Valtteri Bottas a one-year deal and know that the likes of Sebastian Vettel and Alonso are coming to the end of their current contracts this season, will be anxious to know the answer, not wishing for a repeat of the shock of Rosberg’s sudden retirement in December.
Hamilton’s comments suggest he is willing to make the commitments necessary to win back the world title this year. His speed is showing no signs of waning; he clearly outpaced Bottas in testing. And if he can get on top of his start issues and Mercedes doesn’t have the reliability problems it suffered last year, then surely it will be up his rivals to answer the bigger question of how to stop him in 2017.
How do you think Lewis Hamilton will fare in 2017? Do you expect him to win back the F1 world title or not? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or head over to the JA on F1 Facebook page for more discussion.