Even if there was a hint of Olivier playing Lear about Lewis Hamilton’s agonised climb out of his car, the damage done to his back may be so severe he could miss Sunday’s Canadian Grand Prix.
That was the verdict of Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff after this bumpy race in Azerbaijan won by defending champion Max Verstappen for Red Bull, as Ferrari suffered the terrible humiliation of a double retirement.
As for Hamilton, he was beaten by team-mate George Russell for the seventh consecutive occasion, finishing fourth and a place behind his 24-year-old thorn. Russell showed no signs of back pain as he gadded about the podium. Hamilton, in contrast, ‘prayed’ for the race to end.
Lewis Hamilton struggled with back issues during the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on Sunday
When it did, he sat in the cockpit and summoned help. He perched on the ‘halo’ as he struggled to accomplish his exit manoeuvre. If his bouncing horror of a Mercedes — the product of new regulations introduced this season — was the cause of the discomfort, his 37 years hardly helped him.
Wolff, asked whether he feared for Hamilton’s participation in Montreal on Sunday, said: ‘Yes, definitely. This is not muscular any more. It goes properly into the spine and it can have some consequences.
‘He is really bad and we have just got to find a solution (to the regulations). He is maybe the worst affected of all drivers, but pretty much everyone says something needs to be done. For Canada, we need someone on reserve duty, which we do anyway.’
Stoffel Vandoorne, a competent Belgian who previously drove for McLaren, and Dutchman Nyck de Vries, the Formula E champion who has yet to make his debut at the top level, are both possible replacements.
Reserve driver Stoffel Vandoorne may race for Mercedes next week instead of Hamilton
Hamilton claimed he almost crashed during what he called the most painful race of his career in a car Wolff described as a ‘s***box’. The seven-time world champion, who is 37 points behind Russell, said: ‘I’m sore. Very, very sore. There were a lot of moments when I didn’t know whether I was going to keep the car on track.
‘The last 10 laps, my back was just… I was having to go internal, “You’ve got this, you can do this, just bear with it”. The concern is, at 180mph, bashing into a wall. I’ve never had to think about that too much as a racing driver. It was a very strange experience.’
Hamilton revealed after qualifying that he was undergoing regular acupuncture from his physio Angela Cullen, and last night divulged he is also subjecting himself to icy chambers.
‘I’ve been doing cryotherapy,’ he explained. ‘You go in there and it’s bloody cold.’
Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton is yet to finish on the podium this year
Hamilton seemed to suggest he wants to race next weekend on Twitter on Sunday evening
Call me a cynic, but could this dramatic essay in anguish be part of a ploy by Mercedes to get the regulations rewritten? At this stage in the new era of Formula One, eight races in, they are third best, way off Red Bull and Ferrari.
Hamilton, who started seventh, was 71 seconds behind the free-rolling Verstappen — as well as 25 adrift of Russell, who read the party script on Saturday evening, calling the 2022 cars ‘dangerous’ and a ‘recipe for disaster’ after qualifying fifth.
The bouncing issue — porpoising or bottoming out — has been discussed by drivers, and, in fairness to Mercedes’ position, Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz is among those who have called for changes.
As for the red cars, what a nightmare afternoon. Charles Leclerc retired with engine failure, blue smoke polluting the air on lap 20 while he was leading.
Both Ferrari drivers were forced to retire from the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on Sunday
Charles Leclerc was leading the race when he retired, his second early exit in three races
The Monegasque may not have prevailed anyway, given Verstappen’s pace, but, whatever, it was his second retirement in three races and he is now 34 points short of his Dutch rival.
‘It hurts,’ said the wounded Leclerc, who has lost a 47-point advantage since his last win in Melbourne in April. ‘We must analyse what is going on.’
By the time of Leclerc’s withdrawal, Sainz had already trudged back to the garage after suffering hydraulic failure. An inquest is under way at Ferrari, where they have conjured pace but not reliability.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez finished in the top two for the second race in a row
Defending world champion Verstappen won again and celebrated as Leclerc failed to finish
For the moment, team principal Mattia Binotto is credited with pulling off the former, after years of underachievement, and is not fatally blamed for the latter. According to sources in Italy, he is currently safe in post.
Meanwhile, Verstappen, who started third, was gifted the lead when Sergio Perez was told ‘no fighting’ and the Mexican effectively waved the team’s No 1 through. Assistance or not, Verstappen was zooming in on victory in a big way and would have claimed the initiative in his own right sooner or later.
Perez picked up an extra point for setting the fastest lap as he finished runner-up to join the fizz-spraying on the pain-free podium.
Verstappen leads the world championship by 21 points following Sunday’s race