The world champion's world has come tumbling down this year, with new regulations putting McLaren down the order, trusted mentor Ron Dennis stepping away when he needed him most — and an uncharacteristic mistake in qualifying last weekend ruining his chances when the unique Monaco circuit gave him a rare opportunity to shine.
The overly-inflated lie-gate scandal and the subsequent political games certainly hit him hard and, although he doesn't show it, the fact he has been lapped by Jenson Button in the last two races must have left him pretty deflated — none more so than in Barcelona, where McLaren had expected new parts to push them up the field.
That race gave him a serious sign of how tough it would be to get back to the front and with his chance gone from Monaco, Hamilton (pictured) is likely to be facing a few more tough moments unless McLaren can quickly get to grips with the developments they need to put him back in the mix.
But it will be how he deals with the situation that could make or break him, and down the line his actions in the crucial upcoming mid-season races could turn a season to forget into one that should be remembered.
He has, despite suggestions to the contrary, been used to competing in the middle of the pack in the past when, racing up the motorsport ladder, he would be placed in a category, race in the midfield for a year then blow everyone away in the second season — something he did in both Formula Renault and Formula Three before his successful one-season assault on the GP2 title.
In Formula One, however, he had a stunning first season, just missing the title on track while out-politicking the world champion Fernando Alonso within the McLaren team off it. Distractions removed, he did the job last year but has now returned to the midfield, a position for which he has somewhat lost the taste.
The difference this time, compared to the past, is that the media eyes are watching his every move. In the lower formulae he could get on with racing through the tough times but in Formula One he is a superstar and has to go into in-depth analysis of every moment, re-living his tough experiences time and time again.
His reaction, so far, has been to curl up like a frightened hedgehog, to pull his head into his shell like a tortoise...and to occasionally snap like an irritated terrier if anyone tries to poke at him. His smile, whenever it appears, is forced and clearly ends in a poorly masked frown.
But in Monaco, he put on a brave face after the race and cleverly turned attention away from his troubles by praising the job Brawn are doing, while on track he showed, as he has done in several races this year, that he has the stomach for a fight.
Although he may have only been chasing the scraps, he took an aggressive strategy into the opening part of the race and tried to fight his way through the field. He may have not got very far, but the opportunity will have helped him continue to develop a resilient determination that could be vital in the championship battles of the future.
While he may not like it, if he can keep pushing out the smile, however forced, and keep racing with his heart, however far back he is on the grid, this experience will give him yet another arrow to his bow for when he returns to the front.
DATE PUBLISHED ON: 28 MAY 2009
- Jenson Button