Why Hamilton has it so much harder with a title loss to Verstappen than to Rosberg

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The loss of the world title to Max Verstappen is difficult for Lewis Hamilton. So heavy, in fact, that he has decided not to give any sign of life since the World Cup final. Hamilton has lost few championships in recent years, so it’s hard to say if this is his usual way of dealing with a loss. Still, we can make out a few things from his state of mind after Abu Dhabi 2016, where he had to leave the world championship to Nico Rosberg. F1Maximum analyzes Hamilton’s reaction in both years and why the lost 2021 title hurts much more than the one five years before.

To make a comparison, we first go back to the 2016 season. Also in that year it came down to the very last race. Hamilton experienced an engine failure in Malaysia and that cost him a lot of points. He tried to make up for this deficit by means of four consecutive victories in the final phase of the year. In the last race of the year the difference was twelve points after his final sprint. So if Hamilton would win the 2016 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Rosberg had to finish fourth for the world title to go to Hamilton.

Hamilton did everything he could to make this happen. In the closing laps of the race he was in first, with his German team-mate behind him. He slowed down and deliberately pushed Rosberg into the clutches of the chasing Verstappen and Sebastian Vettel who were behind the duo. Hamilton knew: if both these gentlemen outsmart Rosberg, that title is mine. It was to no avail and Rosberg held his own. The title was followed by some donuts from the man whose father (Keke Rosberg, ed.) also once won a world championship. Not much later he ran into his Mercedes teammate.

Hamilton is disappointed, but not crying

When Rosberg entered the room used for the preparations for the podium ceremony, Hamilton was already in a chair. Rosberg lifted Bernie Ecclestone, got a hug from the Englishman and greeted a number of prominent people. Hamilton made no move to get up or congratulate him, but moments later there was a small grin on the Mercedes driver’s lips as he chatted with Ecclestone and P3 Vettel. During the ceremony, Hamilton held himself back. He did not seek contact with his teammate and did have a chat with Vettel from the top step of the podium.

That first place – he did win the Grand Prix – didn’t seem to interest him, his main concern was that Rosberg would not finish second or third. After thanking his team for the 32 victories he and his team had achieved so far, he briefly addressed his former childhood friend: ‘Congratulations Nico on your first championship. Good job, man.’ They just managed to get a handshake, which interviewer David Coulthard then had them repeat because he was in front of the cameras. After all, that sign of sportsmanship, which he would also show to Verstappen five years later, should not be missed. Hamilton didn’t shed a tear publicly despite missing out on his fourth world title.

At the time, Hamilton did not use Instagram or tweet. However, there were already regular posts on his Facebook. If we dive into the posts of 2016, we already see a public statement on the day he lost the title: ‘2016 had highs, but certainly also lows. As much as I wanted that title, I am extremely proud of my achievements and those of the past weekends. I want to thank you for your support. I did my best and I’m happy with how the season ended. I will come back stronger and next year will be faster than ever.” Three days later, he posted a photo of Rosberg and himself, sitting opposite each other like young drivers: ‘We said then we would be champions, now we are both! Congratulations, Nico, you’ve done everything a champion should do. This is deserved.’

Title loss to Verstappen is heavier

The contrast with the reaction after losing the 2021 title is great. Let’s not go into too much detail in this scenario, because people will probably remember the footage. Hamilton ran immediately after crossing the finish line in second place to father Anthony Hamilton. There he got a hug and tears ran down his cheeks. The same sporty handshake did come, but after putting the images side by side, it is clear that the loss of the championship to Verstappen did much more to him. This hypothesis is only reinforced by the fact that Hamilton has gone offline.

In 2016 he immediately came up with a message and followed that message with many posts. Throughout December, he could be seen walking snow-white beaches with a surfboard under his arm. So this is the exact opposite attitude when we compare it to how he spends his winter break this year. Only through Toto Wolff and brother Nicolas Hamilton have we been told that he is processing it, but that he is doing okay under the circumstances. So there is indeed a difference in the approach, which suggests that the pain after the 2021 season is many times deeper. Where does that pain come from?

The intensity, Rosberg or that world record?

Three reasons will have had an effect on Hamilton’s mood after the race, but may only partly explain why Hamilton is having such a hard time. First of all, it might be a way for Hamilton to get rid of the enormous pressure he has been feeling for months. The title fight with Verstappen has demanded a lot from him and race after race he had to go all the way to stop the Dutchman. Think back to the podium ceremony in Hungary, where you could clearly see that Hamilton was knackered. That intensity, and now the lack thereof, can play a role. He did, of course, experience such intensity against Rosberg. How those two weigh up against each other, we don’t know until we ask Hamilton.

What may also play a role is the fact that he lost the title in 2016 to a former childhood friend. The word former is put here for childhood friend because there was very little left of that friendship after the collaboration at Mercedes. Although Hamilton would have liked that title himself, he probably also granted it to his friend. Because he emphasized in a Facebook post three days later that he thought Rosberg deserved the title, which was also the day Rosberg announced his retirement, it can therefore be argued that this had a soothing effect. In Verstappen, of course, he has no friend, but rather an arch-rival.

The third point that can partly explain that Hamilton is currently struggling mentally is that he missed the world record. 2021 was the chance for the seven-time world champion to break Michael Schumacher’s record. While the discussion can already be started whether it is not Schumacher, but Hamilton who is the greatest driver of all time, it would of course have been the greatest achievement of his career as the Mercedes driver had taken that eighth title. He missed that and next year he will also have to deal with George Russell, in addition to the fact that Verstappen looks stronger than ever. All this does not increase the chance that that eighth title will come.

Hamilton’s equal opportunities fight

What will cause the greatest pain, however, is that the course of events at Yas Marina Circuit has certainly felt for Hamilton to be terribly unfair. This would have been a big blow to other drivers, but it is especially so for someone who has put a lot of time into creating equal opportunities for everyone in recent years. Equality is a very important point for Hamilton that he carries close to his heart. Just think of how Hamilton has reacted to police brutality in America, which still regularly takes place purely as a result of the skin color of the person being arrested.

Wolff already indicated it just after the season finale: for Mercedes and Hamilton it feels like they have been robbed. From their perspective, the championship was determined by an action by the race director, who chose one side over the other. So when we talk about equal opportunities and fairness, from the perspective of the German racing stable and its rider it is the exact opposite of that. That sense of powerlessness, that he was robbed and couldn’t do anything about it, whether that was the case or not, must be the reason why Hamilton decided to pull out. That it clashes with a subject he considers very important means that he needs more time than in 2016. However, that does not mean that Hamilton will end his Formula 1 career abruptly. In fact, Hamilton has had to fight all his life and a losing title fight will not neutralize that fighter mentality. After Rosberg’s departure, he won four more world titles.

By: Christian Moerman

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