Lewis Hamilton's Bad Luck Continues in 2016 Chinese Grand Prix Qualifying

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistApril 16, 2016

SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 16:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP talks on the radio in the garage during qualifying for ahead of the Formula One Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 16, 2016 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Steve Etherington/Getty Images)
Steve Etherington/Getty Images

Nico Rosberg may have won the opening two races of the 2016 Formula One season, establishing an early 17-point lead in the drivers' standings, but Lewis Hamilton was reluctant to reach for any panic buttons in the immediate aftermath of the Bahrain Grand Prix.

For the second race in succession, he had been condemned to damage-limitation mode at the very first corner after another poor start left him unable to capitalise on pole position and vulnerable to those behind, and a collision with Williams' Valtteri Bottas ultimately forced him to settle for third.

But although his Mercedes team-mate had extended his career-best winning streak to five races, growing in confidence all the while, Hamilton—at the beginning of what, with 21 grands prix, will be the longest campaign in the history of F1—remained remarkably relaxed as he left the Sakhir circuit.

SAKHIR, BAHRAIN - APRIL 02:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP talks to the press in the Paddock after qualifying in pole position for the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix at Bahrain International Circuit on April 2, 2016 in Sakhir, Bahrain.
Clive Mason/Getty Images

Per Sky Sports' James Galloway, he insisted:

I actually feel really chilled, to be honest. Jeez, it is what it is, it's not a big issue.

There's a long, long way to go. 17 points down? I've had a lot of worse.

Qualifying was great—the last two qualifyings have been good—I think I had the set-up right for the race, but unfortunately I was unable to exploit that. It is what it is. 

Congratulations to Nico—an easy day for him for sure—I live to fight another day.

His insinuation that Rosberg had claimed an "easy" win in Bahrain was a little unfair—after all, can a grand prix victory ever be regarded as that simple?—but Hamilton's assessment of his own race, his own predicament, offered another insight into his growth in maturity in recent times.

Where he would once be horrified by the thought of conceding pole—never mind being assaulted by another car on the opening lap—he now accepts such incidents occasionally happen over the course of an eight-month season and recognises the importance of playing the long game.

Hamilton equalled the title tally of his boyhood idol, Ayrton Senna, at last year's United States GP, but he is without a win since the Austin race.
Hamilton equalled the title tally of his boyhood idol, Ayrton Senna, at last year's United States GP, but he is without a win since the Austin race.Steve Etherington/Getty Images

That sense of perspective—no doubt aided by his recent success, culminating in his third world championship in 2015—means no deficit is ever insurmountable, after Hamilton won the 2014 title by a comfortable 67 points having trailed his team-mate by 29 at one stage.

And while Rosberg had enjoyed a strong start to 2016, it was seemingly a matter of time until Hamilton—who believes he should always be 0.3 seconds faster than the German, as "an important figure at Mercedes" told the Guardian's Paul Weaver—wrested back the momentum and embarked upon a winning run of his own.

The fightback—the retaliation—was expected to begin this weekend at the Shanghai International Circuit, where Hamilton, with five pole positions and four victories, stands as the most successful driver in the 12-year history of the Chinese Grand Prix.

Yet, at the place he has claimed some of the most impressive and important triumphs of his career, his unfortunate start to the new season is set to continue.

Hamilton's chances of claiming his first win since last October's United States GP were immediately blunted before the on-track action even began, with Mercedes' official Twitter account confirming Hamilton would incur a five-place grid penalty due to a gearbox change.

Despite a troubled start to his weekend, Hamilton—as in Bahrain—remained determined to look on the bright side, telling Motorsport.com's Adam Cooper how he views a challenge as "an opportunity to rise" and claiming he was "really excited" about giving Rosberg "a good run for his money" despite the German's latest "easy weekend."

SAKHIR, BAHRAIN - APRIL 03: Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP celebrates his win on the podium with Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP during the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix at Bahrain International Circuit on April 3, 2016 in Sakhir
Clive Mason/Getty Images

That excitement, however, was extinguished just minutes into the first segment of qualifying, when Hamilton reported "an issue with [his] power unit" over pit-to-car radio, per the FOM television feed.

Even the 20-minute delay in proceedings due to Pascal Wehrlein's crash on the pit straight didn't afford Mercedes enough time to resolve the problem, which the team's official website later confirmed was an MGU-H glitch.

And on a day Rosberg claimed his first pole of 2016—setting himself up beautifully for the race by ensuring he will start the race on the soft tyres while his nearest competitors will use the fragile super-softs—Hamilton's misfortune on Sundays bled into Saturday, leaving him at the very rear of the grid without a lap to his name.

After qualifying, Mercedes' Toto Wolff, who arrived at the team at the same time as Hamilton at the beginning of 2013, paid tribute to his driver's handling of his current difficulties, explaining how he returned to the garage to shake "everybody's hand" and give "a little clap of support" following his early elimination, per Cooper.

He added that Hamilton is still "in a great place," claiming his personal development over the last three years has been nothing short of "mind blowing."

Hamilton may still be really chilled. He may, as he told the same source, see "no real need to be too stressed about" his bad luck just yet. He may remain convinced it will all come good in the end.

But as Nico continues to have it easy, it is becoming increasingly evident that if Lewis is to win a fourth title in 2016, he will have to do it the hard way.

The Hamilton Way.