MPH: Hamilton and Ricciardo's poor form — is the problem them?

Mark Hughes

Lewis Hamilton and Daniel Ricciardo are struggling to get their 2024 F1 campaigns off the ground. Is it a result of getting older? Or, as Mark Hughes suggests, may it be due to harsh self-criticism?

Daniel Ricciardo RB Lewis Hamilton Mercedes

Ricciardo and Hamilton are enduring through tough starts to their respective 2024 F1 campaigns

Red Bull/Getty Images

Although the circumstances were quite different, both Lewis Hamilton and Daniel Ricciardo made reference in Montreal last weekend to the mysteries of their own performances this year. Ricciardo had a much more positive weekend than usual, qualifying the RB fifth-fastest, over 0.1sec faster than team mate Yuki Tsunoda. By contrast, Hamilton drove what he described as ‘one of my worst ever races’ on his way to fourth place. The day before he’d been mystified why his blistering pace from FP3 — when he was 0.3sec clear of the field — had dissolved into qualifying, leaving him back in seventh on the grid with his Mercedes team mate George Russell on pole.

Both Hamilton and Ricciardo have had difficult seasons to date, overshadowed by their team mates, but what was unusual about Montreal is that both were accepting that the problem might be them. After decrying his ‘really poor performance’ in the race, Hamilton said, “Some other things came into it, but mostly myself, and then one of the worst races that I’ve driven, lots of mistakes. Of course if I’d qualified better I would’ve been in a much better position so it is what it is.

“I will go back to the drawing board. On a positive note… it is becoming a car we can fight with. That is a real positive going into the next part of the season, I know we’ll have more upgrades coming along the way so it is going to be a close battle.

“If I get my head on right, I’ll get better results at some stage.”

Lewis Hamilton Mercedes

After a relatively brilliant season in 2023, Hamilton is struggling for form in ’24

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If he gets his head on right? Is it a question of psychology then? From some of his cryptic comments earlier in the season, he’s clearly feeling some paranoia about whether he is getting equal opportunities in his final season with the team before departing to Ferrari. Obviously he won’t be in the loop for developments relating to next season, but in the preparation and operation of his car on a race weekend let’s park that question for now and assume his concerns are unfounded.

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But how damaging might those concerns be to his own performance? At 39 years old there are many attributing his form to the passing of time. But you don’t go from setting the track alight on Saturday morning, braking super-late and confident, shaving the walls just like in the peak of your career, leaving your team mate bewildered at where you are finding the time from, to being old and off the pace later that same day. This cannot be a physical thing. Some of his qualifying deficit was later attributed to incorrect tyre pressures (doubtless creating more paranoia), but there’s clearly a psychological element at play. He is not meeting his own standards and it seems to be feeding on itself.

Focus is a word you hear all the time in all sports and F1 demands an extraordinary level of intensity. With a mountain of success behind you it’s probably quite easy to kid yourself you’re at your limit until a team-mate goes faster. Digging for the last tenth or so can be very uncomfortable. It needs to be flowing naturally, so that the spiral of confidence becomes ingrained in everything you do. But the moment that confidence gets dented and the questions arise, the performance can spiral downwards too.

“It’s not physical ability which makes drivers retire,” the late Chris Amon once explained of his own retirement at 34, “it’s just the loss of desire, from the grounding down of all the years. It isn’t that you can’t still do it. It’s that you can’t always summon the desire to go to that edge.”

Daniel Ricciardo RB

Is Ricciardo’s lack of form due to a lack of desire?

Red Bull

Some of that resonated with what Ricciardo was talking about in Canada. “It was like, OK, what are maybe some other things that are affecting my performances? Am I coming into a race weekend not feeling energised or not feeling this or that?

“I think I just had a little bit of good self-therapy after Monaco, and just sat back and had a look at maybe the things I’m doing wrong away from the track. Or giving too much of my time to people and by the time I get to race day or something, I’m a little bit more flat.

“Deep down, I know what I can do, and it’s just making sure I’m in this spot to be able to do it more often.”

“That little energy, that little bit of a chip on my shoulder I brought into the weekend, I’ve got to make sure that stays there, and just keep that level of intensity. Sometimes being a little bit… I don’t know if I need to be a bit angry or just get my testosterone up. But I think it helps me.”