Montreal provides many happy memories for Lewis Hamilton.
The Gilles Villeneuve Circuit was the scene of his first Grand Prix victory in Formula One, as well as his first pole position way back from his rookie year at McLaren in 2007.
The wins have piled up in Canada since – seven of them in total. Only in Great Britain and Hungary has he triumphed more with eight wins and he has raced at Silverstone and the Hungaroring three more times than his 12 visits to the man-made island on the St. Lawrence river.
Lewis Hamilton celebrates winning his first ever race at the 2007 Canadian Grand Prix
Simple maths tells us when Hamilton arrives in Canada he is highly likely to leave with a winner’s trophy, yet this year he will likely be very lucky just to scrape a top-three finish.
As recently as Sunday, it may have been considered unlikely he would even start the race due to a back injury and that just about sums up what is becoming a nightmare season for the seven-time world champion.
Never mind not winning in Canada, such is the downturn in fortunes for the 37-year-old there is now concern that for the first time in his Formula One career he may go an entire year without a race victory.
This was meant to be the year that Hamilton put the bitter disappointment of his controversial last-lap title loss to Max Verstappen in Abu Dhabi last year to rest by claiming a record eighth world championship.
Hamilton has won a race in every Grand Prix season since but is struggling for victories in 2022
Those hopes already looked dashed, with Hamilton sitting a huge 88 points behind Verstappen – whose Red Bull team appear to be the class of the field.
But is there any hope of Hamilton somehow keeping up his streak of landing on the top step of the podium this year?
If we go on 2022’s evidence, it’s not looking good. Not only does he no longer have the best car, but this year’s Mercedes also looks one of the most challenging cars on the grid to drive. Even when a sweet spot is found in the set-up, it is simply no match for Red Bull and, to a large extent, Ferrari.
All eight races have been won by Red Bull or Charles Leclerc for the Maranello outfit and Mercedes have not had a sniff of getting anywhere near them.
Never mind race wins though, Hamilton needs to beat his team-mate first – something he has not done since the opening race of the season when he claimed third place after a dramatic double retirement from Red Bull late in the race.
The Brit has not even been on the podium since finishing third in the opening race at Bahrain
In the last seven races Hamilton has finished behind new Mercedes team-mate George Russell
Since Sakhir, George Russell has gone to beat his British compatriot in the following seven races, bagging three podiums himself and establishing a rather concerning 37-point lead over Hamilton in the process from the veteran’s point of view.
Russell is new to the team after arriving from Williams at the start of 2022 to replace Valtteri Bottas, who in his five years as Hamilton’s team-mate had long been chewed up and spat out as a competitive threat even if the two enjoyed a harmonious relationship.
Russell, though, has upset the balance and the 24-year-old is now a serious threat to Hamilton, who is unlikely to improve so late in his career as he approaches the wrong side of 40.
Even if Mercedes find a sudden solution to their car’s lack of pace, it appears Hamilton now also faces one of the toughest team-mate battles he has had in his career.
Mercedes’ problems offer a mix of frustration and light at the end of the tunnel although right now it’s all very much the former for Hamilton.
Hamilton has suffered with the bouncing phenomenon caused by porpoising in his Mercedes
A highly experimental approach to designing a new car for the new rules and regulations for 2022 led Mercedes down a unique ‘no side pod’ design and it appears to have landed them in all sorts of problems.
While most cars on the grid have had to deal with porpoising, no team is suffering more than Mercedes from the phenomenon that makes the car bounce violently up and down at up to six times the force of gravity when the car hits high speeds on a straight.
It’s exactly this issue that led to Hamilton barely being able to climb out of his cockpit after his fourth-placed finish at Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, having complained of a bad back.
Mercedes can lift the ride height of the car to combat this, but the Silver Arrows are hoping the FIA make it mandatory for every team to have to raise theirs too due to the negative impact it will have on lap time.
Hamilton will be relieved to have heard F1 chiefs vowing on Thursday to remove porpoising on advice from its medical teams.
A statement from F1’s governing body, released ahead of this weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix, read: ‘The FIA, as the governing body of the sport, has decided that, in the interests of safety, it is necessary to intervene to require that the teams make the necessary adjustments to reduce or to eliminate this phenomenon [of porpoising].
‘The FIA has decided to intervene following consultation with its doctors in the interests of safety of the drivers.’
The team may even find a fix for it, and if they do it could be the magic bullet that fires them back into contention for race wins.
It has led to back injuries as he is helped from his car following the Azerbaijan Grand Prix
Sounds unrealistic? Back in 2009 as defending world champion, Hamilton spent the first half of the season struggling near the back – even being the second slowest car at Silverstone during qualifying – before two races later winning the Hungarian Grand Prix due to major improvements to his McLaren.
Such improvements are restricted this term in theory due to a budget cap, but then Hamilton is driving the third best car on the grid and not one of the worst. The point is: dramatic improvements can be found.
But even if there are no car performance gains there are other ways Hamilton could still bag a win before the end of the season.
Grands Prix are prone to throwing up the odd random race where chaos reigns and an unlikely winner emerges and this tends to happen during a wet race.
Hamilton has been supreme in the wet conditions, winning his seventh title in Turkey in 2020
Step forward the ultimate rain master. Hamilton has been showcasing his excellent wet-weather driving throughout his career and it was in Turkey in 2020 where – in very slippery conditions on a wet track – he clinched a famous victory along with his seventh world championship, or last year in Russia when a late downpour saw him emerge among the carnage with the winner’s trophy.
Granted, Monaco was wet this season and he ended up stuck behind his old rival Fernando Alonso for much of the race on his way to eighth – but then the streets of Monte Carlo can be unique in this regard.
He was also off the pace in Imola on a damp track but again his pace was hugely masked by being caught behind Pierre Gasly for much of the race in 13th place.
Admittedly these are situations he could have avoided if he had qualified better, but they shouldn’t be used as arguments against how talented he can be in wet-weather driving.
But in the changeable Imola conditions this year, he was left stuck behind Pierre Gasly (above)
It doesn’t even need to be wet either. One of Hamilton’s best performances this season came in Spain when, after being taken out through no fault of his own at the start, he effectively came from the back of the grid and to a superb fifth place – overtaking Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz in the process.
It’s hope for Mercedes that when they can get the troublesome W13 working they can offer a fight to Ferrari, but what about Red Bull?
Never rule out the potential for retirements or freak safety cars. Granted, this means relying on luck but a win is a win and given the questionable reliability of Red Bull and Ferrari – who had a double DNF last time out in Azerbaijan – Mercedes as the third best team are best-placed to pounce. Even a well timed safety car could play into Hamilton’s hands and all he needs is a chance.
Remember, Alpine’s Esteban Ocon won last year’s Hungarian Grand Prix in the fifth best car, while the previous two races at Monza in Italy have seen teams outside the top two teams claim success.
It’s looking grim for Hamilton in what is one of the most, if not the most, testing seasons of his career but given his talent and the curious way a season or even a race can fall into a driver’s lap – you just can’t rule him out of standing on the top step this year just yet.