Decline and fall? Hamilton shrugs off early season woes

'Fed up'?: Lewis Hamilton walks down the paddock at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix

Baku (AFP) – Lewis Hamilton seemed to be the man least concerned by his own decline on Friday after another unexceptional performance saw him finish fifth in practice for this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

In the process, the four-time world champion was outpaced by both Red Bull drivers, one of the Ferraris and his own Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas.

Yet, Hamilton was unfazed by it all and rejected the statistics that point to a slump in results.

Hamilton has failed to win in three races this year and six in all since he triumphed last October at the United States Grand Prix.

Many observers, including one of the most seasoned of all, Bernie Ecclestone, believe the 33-year-old Briton has mislaid, if not lost, his mojo.

In this year’s championship, he is nine points adrift of German four-time champion Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari. Curiously, he also struggled to 10th and 11th in Friday’s practice sessions.

If Hamilton fails to triumph on Sunday, he will extend his winless run this year to four races –- a season-opening streak that has not been overcome and turned into a championship winning season in three decades.

Not since 1989, when Alain Prost succeeded in beating his McLaren team-mate Ayrton Senna to the title in controversial circumstances, has anyone turned such a poor start into a title triumph.

“I don’t think about statistics and I am always one for wanting to defy the odds,” said Hamilton. 

“If we don’t win this weekend, I plan on changing that statistic.

“Do I feel the need for the win? I am enjoying the battle and the whole experience, and that is what motorsport is all about. Finishing first is obviously a great feeling, but it always feels better when you have come from further back.

“When it feels like you have had a harder slog to get that victory, the win always feels better so when it does arrive, it is going to be great.”

Former commercial rights supremo Ecclestone, however, begs to differ and said he feels that Hamilton may no longer have the required edge to his racing.

“He doesn’t seem to be the Lewis that he was before,” he told reporters on Friday.

“I don’t know whether it’s me, but when you talk to him and see him act the way he acts generally, he’s not the racer he was.

“He’s still very quick, still super talented, still a super nice guy, but maybe he’s just getting a little bit tired of travelling and he’s fed up with things.”