x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 September 2017

Mistakes from McLaren-Mercedes are hurting Lewis Hamilton

Errors have hurt the British driver's chances at each grand prix this season, writes Gary Meenaghan. Audio interview

Lewis Hamilton's frustration with McLaren-Mercedes came to the surface in Monaco.
Lewis Hamilton's frustration with McLaren-Mercedes came to the surface in Monaco.

Not since the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last November has Lewis Hamilton, McLaren-Mercedes' temperamental 28 year old, finished a race higher in the field than he started.

In the past seven grands prix, including Sunday's race on the streets of Monte Carlo, Hamilton has largely suffered at the hands of his increasingly calamitous team.

If the situation does not soon change, it is unlikely the Englishman will hang around.

World champions do not suffer fools and Martin Whitmarsh, the team principal, and his band of engineers are not exactly showering themselves in glory.

McLaren may have nurtured Hamilton from playpen to paddock, but loyalty is finite and with his contract expiring in December, the England-based marque must prove their worth in more than mere monetary terms.

When Hamilton won at Yas Marina Circuit last year, the future looked as rosy as his rivals' flustered cheeks. He spoke of it being "definitely the start of something hopefully very good". Instead, a week later in Brazil, his season ended with a whimper because of a malfunctioning gearbox.

The new season offered much to be confident about with McLaren locking out the front row in Melbourne qualifying. Yet the pole position Hamilton had secured,was quickly lost in a plume of teammate Jenson Button's exhaust fumes after being told to alter his clutch settings while sat on the grid.

His team clearly did not learn their lesson as he was given similar orders on Sunday. This time Hamilton, having placed third on the grid, endured a start he later called "one of the worst in a long time".

It is no secret Hamilton craves the three world drivers' titles that his hero Ayrton Senna managed, but his team are seriously hindering his chances. For a driver to have topped the qualifying time sheets three times in six weekends, yet only come away with a trio of third-place finishes because of team errors, is unacceptable.

Pit stops proved problematic in Malaysia and Bahrain so personnel adjustments were made with staff switching positions. Yet the issues remain and they are ruining Hamilton's hopes of success this season.

The mistake at the Spanish Grand Prix, where the driver produced a sensational flying lap only to see a team error result in him being disqualified for not carrying enough fuel, left Hamilton disillusioned and at the back of the grid. Yet he still fought his way through the field to finish ahead of Button: Proof that he is doing everything right, but getting nowhere.

Until now, the 2008 world champion has relied on his consistency. Even Fernando Alonso, the remarkably overachieving Ferrari driver, said he reckons, come November, it will be his former teammate who will likely be the man to catch in the standings.

However, two consecutive eighth places and a fifth in Monaco have seen Hamilton slip to fourth in the title race. As Mark Webber said: "Consistency is nice, but wins are what wins championships."

McLaren know what they must do, and they know they must do it immediately or stand to lose not only one of the sport's fastest and most daring drivers, but also one of its biggest money-spinners.

It is understood a contract is being prepared by McLaren's moneymen that will see Hamilton offered £100 million (Dh576.7m) over five years. Such a base figure would make him his country's highest-earning sportsman and once his several endorsements are factored in, he would likely become the best paid in the sport, an accolade currently held by Alonso, who earns £30m per annum at Ferrari.

If Hamilton decides to refuse the offer, his options are limited, with Mercedes-GP the most likely destination.

Ferrari would be crazy to try to pair Hamilton with Alonso once again - their relationship at McLaren was fractious at best - and Red Bull Racing do not appear willing to take an unnecessary risk when they already have a young world champion in Sebastian Vettel and a long-standing development plan in place at Toro Rosso.

It was in Canada last year that Hamilton visited Christian Horner, Red Bull's team principal, to discuss potential employment opportunities.

If McLaren fail to get their act together before the circus rolls into Montreal in 10 days' time, it would not come as a major surprise if Ross Brawn, the Mercedes chief, hears a knock on his motorhome door an hour or so after the chequered flag falls.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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