AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The image was striking: Lewis Hamilton walking away from his damaged car after a wreck he caused while Mercedes teammate George Russell zoomed by in the background in the Qatari desert
For Hamilton, a seven-time Formula One champion, it was the worst moment in what has been a mostly frustrating season. He is third in the drivers’ standings heading into this week’s United States Grand Prix, and has again watched rival Max Verstappen of Red Bull already drive away to the championship.
Compounding the season’s issues has been some added competition from the other British driver across the Mercedes garage. Russell is a distant eighth in the driver’s standings. but has been a constant in Hamilton’s rearview mirrors of late.
They narrowly avoided a crash in Japan before disaster struck in Qatar, where Hamilton’s first lap, first turn collision with Russell ended Hamilton’s race. Russell recovered to finish fourth, while Hamilton’s stroll from his wrecked car across the track was a safety violation that drew a stern reprimand and fine from the FIA.
“Move forwards,” Hamilton said this week. “The great thing about our sport is that there is always another day to get back on the horse and so that’s just been pushing, moving forward … There’s nothing I can do about the past, there’s definitely things I can learn from, which I have.”
The smash-up with Russell was eerily reminiscent of Hamilton’s clash with teammate Nico Rosberg in 2016 in a season-long duel for the championship. Rosberg eventually won it to claim his only F1 championship.
And it was frustrating for Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff. The crash cost Hamilton valuable points in his chase to pass Red Bull’s Sergio Perez for second in the driver’s championship, and Mercedes’ bid to hold off Ferrari for second in the team standings.
“The last round in Qatar was a case of what might have been. As a team, you never want to see your cars collide. It was frustrating to leave a lot of points on the table,” Wolff said.
In the moments after the crash, Hamilton blamed Russell, only to quickly offer an apology after watching a replay of the incident in which Hamilton took “100% responsibility.”
Hamilton has insisted “The relationship is not broken.”
“I don’t have any problems with George. We have a great relationship and we always talk about things,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton has a legacy of success at the Circuit of the Americas, where he won five times between 2012 and 2019 but hasn’t won since. Hamilton finished second to Verstappen each of the last two years. He will start Sunday’s race from third, while Verstappen lost pole position for exceeding track limits and will start sixth.
“Maybe with Red Bull not in the top three, maybe that makes it a closer battle because they often disappear off into this distance,” Hamilton said.
Wolff is back at the track and keeping an eye on his drivers. He missed the races in Japan due to knee surgery to fix a lingering problem from an old bicycle accident.
Wolff was plugged in with the team by remote setup for the races he missed and could communicate with the garage, but said he left the race management, and handling the emotions of the drivers, to staff on the ground.
“You listen, you don’t look into the faces and see what’s going on emotionally and what’s going on around you,” Wolff said. “Sometimes you need these moments to recalibrate … The drivers are competing hard.”
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