Sir Lewis Hamilton, 272 race starts, 100 pole positions, 55 fastest laps 98 wins to date and 7 F1 championships. All accumulated with the racer’s instinct. He has the raw ability, he has the racecraft, he has the experience he is the complete driver. However, in F1 experience does little to delete mistakes. Hamilton makes very few but this season he has made a few too many for his high standards. At Imola, Hamilton got flustered trying to overtake a backmarker, slid off the track and into the gravel. He was saved by the Russell/Bottas crash. And at Baku he accidentally switched off his brake balance which caused him to lose a race he could have won. Flustered or accidental they are still mistakes, mistakes brought on by the pressure of being hunted and being the hunter in a less than competitive W12 E.
Verstappen and Red Bull have the better car in 2021. The Mercedes W12 E has some peculiarities that make it almost unsuitable on tight-twisty street circuits. Even Mercedes do not fully understand the exact issue. As a result, the W12 E proved to be uncompetitive for Hamilton in Monaco and uncompetitive for Bottas in Baku. During the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, with Verstappen out of the equation due to a high-speed crash, Hamilton was sitting in second.
Ahead of him was Perez in the Red Bull. At the restart, Hamilton sensed victory and went for it. But a mistake with his brake balance settings sent him flying down the escape road on the run-up into turn 1. With two laps remaining he finished last. Tactically settling for second would have been the better, less risky option.
So what if Perez wins, his 2021 rival Verstappen was out of the race. Even a one-point advantage is still a psychological advantage. But you don’t win 98 races by settling for second, the racer’s instinct is a snap, in the moment decision to go for that gap. You either do or do not.
But six races into a 23 race campaign, maybe a bit prudency was the better way to go. Hamilton should have used his experience, but the racing instinct is a mindset that does not settle for second. And the latter was his third mistake. With a tight championship, small mistakes will come at a big cost.