Lewis Hamilton’s words echoed around the streets of Baku on Sunday, as the seven-time world champion was gifted a golden opportunity to take back the lead of the championship in Azerbaijan.
“We’ve got to remember this is a marathon, not a sprint. Got to be measured, how risky we go,” said Hamilton on his Mercedes team radio before the restart after a lengthy red-flag period.
Main title rival and race leader Max Verstappen had hit the wall. Race control had halted the session, and there was about to be a two-lap sprint race to finish the race, with Hamilton sitting second.
Peter Bonnington, Hamilton’s race engineer replied: “Copy Lewis” with team principal Toto Wolff adding: “Absolutely agree, Lewis.”
As the lights went out, Hamilton had a clean run on Red Bull’s Sergio Perez, who had inherited pole position after his team-mate’s crash, but then it all came undone for the seven-time world champion.
Toto Wolff labels Mercedes’ Azerbaijan GP ‘unacceptable’
‘Brake magic’ is understood to be a setting used by Mercedes behind the Safety Car to help heat the brakes by altering brake bias settings, along with various other things.
But this wasn’t Hamilton’s first rodeo, he has been in these positions before and performed the unimaginable.
The 2020 Turkish Grand Prix, where he outclassed the entire field by managing to wring out his tyres without damaging them, passing several cars through without pitting, and taking the lead from Sergio Perez to ultimately finish almost 30 seconds ahead, can’t be forgotten. It was a performance that secured him a seventh world title.
But this felt different, this felt like Hamilton let the pressure get to him and it boiled over. No-one is suggesting it’s a rookie mistake, but it was a sloppy one that cost him and the team dearly.
The heartbreaking message came across the radio. “I’m so sorry,” said the Briton. “Don’t sweat it, Lewis,” came the response, a sign that maybe Verstappen and Red Bull are starting to flap the otherwise unflappable reigning world champion.
Hamilton explained: “Just on the restart, I think when Checo [Perez] moved over towards me.
“I clicked a switch and it basically switches the brakes off, and I just went straight,” he said. “I had no idea that I’d even touched it.
“So very hard to take, but mostly just really sorry to the men and women in the team who have worked so hard for these points, but we will regroup and come back stronger I’m sure.”
Hamilton now finds himself in a precarious position in the aftermath of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix after the uncharacteristic mistake. With no points gained he finds himself still sat behind Verstappen in the standings, despite the Dutchman not even finishing the race.
The last time F1 had two consecutive races without a Mercedes on the podium was the final two races of 2013, the US and Brazillian Grands Prix.
Rarely do we see Hamilton make mistakes, and even more rarely do we not see Hamilton bounce back stronger. He’s one of the most successful drivers in Formula One history for a reason, and in this case, maybe his error has the power to turn him into something even better than he was before in his quest for an eighth world title.