Lewis Hamilton's Speed Advantage over Nico Rosberg Wiped out by Bad Luck

Oliver HardenFeatured ColumnistJuly 26, 2014

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 26:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP walks away from his car after it caught fire during qualifying ahead of the Hungarian Formula One Grand Prix at Hungaroring on July 26, 2014 in Budapest, Hungary.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

The qualifying gods, it is fair to assume, have something against Lewis Hamilton at the moment.

After a scintillating start to the season which saw the Mercedes driver record four pole positions in the opening five races, the 2008 world champion has recently been unable to catch a break in his battle with Nico Rosberg, his teammate.

The momentum, despite a well-timed win on home soil at Silverstone earlier this month, is firmly with Rosberg, the championship leader, who has embarked on a decent run of his own.

Since Hamilton's last pole at the Spanish Grand Prix, the German has scored five poles in six events, with the latest secured at this weekend's Hungarian Grand Prix, the last race before Formula One's traditional summer break.

MONTMELO, SPAIN - MAY 10:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP celebrates with team-mate Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP after qualifying in pole position ahead of the Spanish F1 Grand Prix at Circuit de Catalunya on May 10, 2014 in Mo
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

Although Rosberg managed to weather to the storm and cling tightly to the coattails of Hamilton in the midst of the British driver's streak of pole positions—with a lowest starting position of fourth in China—Hamilton has been unable to do the same.

Since the Canadian Grand Prix on June 8, the last time Hamilton began a race from the front row of the grid, the No. 44 car has failed to start from within the top five.

The events of qualifying day at following race, the Austrian Grand Prix, which the 29-year-old started from ninth, have proven to be much more than a simple one-off, a freak result.

Hamilton appears to be stuck in a rut of cruel luck and slight, niggling mishaps which have cast a shadow over a season that, as long ago as the day he joined the team at the beginning of 2013, was always thought to be his year, his time.

The controversial Q3 session at Monaco, which saw Rosberg run wide, bring out the yellow flags and therefore deny Hamilton a late shot at pole, has had a larger effect than initially thought, with the British driver shaken out of his rhythm and seemingly unable to regain it.

The signs were there as long ago as Canada, where the 2008 world champion made a mistake on his final run. 

And although second on the grid to Rosberg by a margin of just one tenth of a second, according to the official Formula One website, was by no means a poor result, this was Lewis Hamilton at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, the track where he took his first Formula One victory and where he often finds himself in a class of his own.

His retirement the following day was almost fitting, adding insult to injury on a weekend where his air of invincibility was lost.

Hamilton became a victim of the FIA's clampdown on drivers exploiting track limits at the Red Bull Ring, having his opening Q3 lap disallowed after running wide on the exit of the penultimate corner.

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JULY 05:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP drives during final practice ahead of the British Formula One Grand Prix at Silverstone Circuit on July 5, 2014 in Northampton, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Christopher Lee/Get
Christopher Lee/Getty Images

His final run, of course, was marred with a lock-up and spin under braking for Turn 2 at the Austrian circuit.

If his mistake in the Styrian mountains told the story of a driver struggling under pressure, Hamilton's qualifying performance at the British Grand Prix was even more revealing in terms of his mindset.

The 2008 world champion's decision to abort his final run on a drying track, even though provisional pole was in his pocket at the time, was totally out of character for a man who prides himself on his racing instinct and his willingness to compete ferociously until the bitter end. 

His victory from sixth on the grid the following day papered over the qualifying crack convincingly marked the end of Hamilton's run of unforced errors—but heralded the beginning of the mechanical failures at crucial times.

Michael Probst/Associated Press

Hamilton's front-right brake failure at Hockenheim last week left him with yet another recovery job on his hands from 15th on the grid, with the Briton surging to third place in the race.

However, his latest technical problem—an oil leak, according to Mercedes' official Twitter profile—at the Hungaroring, another "Hamilton-drome," is unlikely to be followed by a similar resurgence from a pit lane start.

Unlike the Hockenheimring, the home of the Hungarian Grand Prix fails to encourage overtaking in normal conditions, with its largely dusty track surface, its tight and twisty corners and its lack of heavy braking zones meaning any pass is a high-risk one.

And considering that his progress through the field in Germany was hindered by contact with two fellow world champions, Kimi Raikkonen and Jenson Button, the chances of Hamilton gaining anything meaningful from the race are slim.

Hamilton himself admitted this was the case, with the Mercedes driver quoted by Pete Gill and Mike Wise of Sky Sports as stating: "This is a track that you cannot overtake on so I think I will struggle to get in the top 10 tomorrow or at least the top five."

Unlike the German Grand Prix, Hamilton will be in true damage limitation mode during the Budapest race, after which Rosberg, provided his car avoids technical tribulations, is likely to hold a lead of almost 40 points—nearly the equivalent of two race wins—over his teammate in the drivers' standings.

The summer break, with that in mind, will come at an ideal time for Hamilton, offering him a chance to escape the furnace of the title battle and reflect on his season so far with a clear frame of mind.

His bad luck, you have to presume, is due to expire, and with memories of Sebastian Vettel's season-ending winning streak of nine races in 2013 still relatively fresh in the mind, Hamilton must return to action at Spa next month unwilling to give the slightest advantage to Rosberg.

Forget the Hungarian Grand Prix—the next four weeks could define Hamilton's season and his career.