Lewis Hamilton says isolation and Covid-19 made for ‘hardest year’ in F1

Lewis Hamilton says isolation and Covid-19 made for ‘hardest year’ in F1

Lewis Hamilton has said this Formula One season was the hardest of his career. Hamilton secured his seventh world championship this year to move level with Michael Schumacher as the sport’s most successful driver. He believes that doing so in the shadow of the coronavirus, which he contracted, made the achievement for himself and indeed the sport in managing to go on racing all the more notable.

The 17-race Formula One season came to a conclusion with the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday. The race was won by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen with a dominant run from pole to the flag, against which the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas and Hamilton were unable to mount a challenge, finishing second and third respectively.

Racing did not begin until 5 July and has since been relentless. In Abu Dhabi Hamilton was returning having missed the previous round after contracting Covid-19. He had already won the title in Turkey and had been rigorous this year in sticking to a strict, very small, social bubble, including not seeing his family and staying in a motorhome at circuits as a precaution.

“This year it’s been one of the hardest, if not the hardest year,” Hamilton said. “Because we’ve all dealt with isolation we’ve not been around people. There’s been a great loss of life. I’m grateful that we got to race but these races can take a lot out of you.”

The world champion was pleased, nonetheless, that F1 had managed to put together a full season so successfully. “It’s a great achievement for F1 to have got us back racing. Thank God for the health and wellbeing of everyone here in this sport that’s managed to get safely through the year.”

Verstappen drove superbly to take the win at the Yas Marina circuit and he also acknowledged how tough it had been to get through 2020. “We will definitely go into the winter with a good feeling,” he said. “It’s always nice to win the last race for the whole team, especially after a year like this when it’s very tough and a lot of races followed each other. So it’s been hard on everyone, especially mechanics but also the people back in the factory manufacturing all the new parts.”

Red Bull had the quicker car in Abu Dhabi and while the Mercedes engineering director, Andrew Shovlin, confirmed they had, as a precaution, turned down the MGU-K units on their engines, it amounted to less than a tenth of a second a lap, far less than the advantage Red Bull enjoyed. The regulations are frozen for next year and Red Bull’s pace at the close was, Hamilton said, evidence Mercedes will have “a fight on our hands” next year.

Yet reading too much into it may be premature. Red Bull have steadily improved their car and it has come on in the second half of the season. However, such was Mercedes’ dominance that they ceased development of this year’s car after the Belgian GP, switching resources to the 2021 model. Red Bull are closer but Mercedes will probably still be the team to beat.