Lewis Hamilton seemed to be the man least concerned by his own decline as this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix inches closer.
Hamilton has failed to win in three races this year and six in all since he triumphed last October at the US 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.”
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.”
Vettel tops Baku final practice
Championship leader Vettel bounced back to top the times for Ferrari ahead of nearest rival Hamilton in Saturday’s third and final free practice for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
Vettel clocked a best time of one minute and 43.091 seconds, out-pacing the Briton, also a four-time champion, by 0.361 seconds.
Kimi Raikkonen, in the second Ferrari, was third, four-tenths of a second adrift of his teammate ahead of Max Verstappen of Red Bull, Valtteri Bottas in the second Mercedes and Sergio Perez of Force India. AFP