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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 September 2018

Lewis Hamilton cannot afford to rely on luck all season if he wants to win fifth world title

The Briton was fortunate to triumph in Azerbaijan and needs to up his game to beat Sebastian Vettel and Valtteri Bottas

Lewis Hamilton won in Azerbaijan but was fortunate to do so. Srdjan Suki / Pool via Reuters
Lewis Hamilton won in Azerbaijan but was fortunate to do so. Srdjan Suki / Pool via Reuters

It was to his credit that Lewis Hamilton did not celebrate with much vigour after his 63rd 63rd Formula One victory in Azerbaijan on Sunday.

It was a very fortunate victory and he knew it as much as anyone.

Without the safety car period, which came out on Lap 40 of the 53-lap event after Red Bull Racing drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen collided, it would likely have been Sebastian Vettel who would have won the race.

But even after that drama, Hamilton was still running second in the closing laps behind Mercedes-GP teammate Valtteri Bottas before the Finn suffered a puncture that forced him out and gifted the world champion the lead that he held until the chequered flag.

Hamilton took time out post-race to comfort Bottas for his setback, which highlights just how awkward he felt about his triumph.

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Bottas had driven a superb stint on ageing tyres in Baku to put himself in a position where he would have likely got ahead of Hamilton, having run behind him in the opening part of the grand prix.

It is the third race in a row, coming after Bahrain and China, that Bottas has done the better overall job over race weekend.

Hamilton later said he and Mercedes had struggled in practice on Friday and that he was pushing the team to do a better job.

"I'm going to be knocking on the doors of all the engineers overnight, so that we can hopefully make the right changes," the four-time world champion told reporters.

A post shared by Lewis Hamilton (@lewishamilton) on

The engineers, given what they have seen over the first four races, would not be out of line to knock on Hamilton's door and ask about an improved showing from their driver.

Granted, he was unlucky to miss out on victory in Australia due to an ill-timed Virtual Safety Car (VSC) period that allowed Vettel to leapfrog him, but he was subdued in both Bahrain and China, and it was Bottas challenging for wins for Mercedes.

It was a similar story last season in the first half of the campaign. Bottas would often have the edge on Hamilton, and he beat the Briton in Russia, Monaco and Austria.

As the Mercedes package improved as the season wore on, Hamilton's got faster. He was often more than half-a-second faster than Bottas in qualifying as he put together a strong run of form which set up his third title in four years.

The question now is whether Hamilton has regressed or Bottas has progressed to the point where performance levels become so much closer.

Bottas deserves credit for bouncing back from his qualifying crash in Melbourne that wrecked his race weekend, but as the Finn raises his game, it is still surprising to see him putting Hamilton on the backfoot.

Bernie Ecclestone, the former F1 supremo, said pre-race that he believed Hamilton "was not the racer he was" in regards to the Briton's inauspicious start to the season.

Hamilton declined to respond, and when asked in a news conference if he still felt he was driving at his highest level said: "We'll see at the end of the year".

Hardly the most convincing words of a man confident of becoming a five-time world champion at the season-ending Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on November 25.

For the first time since 2013, Hamilton is not in the quickest car in the field. Ferrari have a pace edge at present, and while tot a clear advantage, enough to ensure Vettel has taken pole for the past three races.

Hamilton was lucky to win on Sunday and he is incredibly fortunate to be heading to Spain for the next round on May 13 with a four-point lead over Vettel.

As a general rule in sport you can be lucky once or twice but it is rare, especially in F1, for that to last a season.

There is not always going to be a safety car every race to bail Hamilton out. As well as improvements from Mercedes, he needs to raise his game if he is to be beat Vettel, and even Bottas, to be No 1 this year.

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