One look at the WDC standings after the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, and you would be forgiven if you yawned at Sir Lewis Hamilton in first place and Max Verstappen tailgating him. At least two-thirds of the old HAM-BOT-VER joke still applies, then.
Yet, if you have followed the season carefully, you really can’t shake the feeling that too many stars have aligned in two races for Hamilton to hold his current position. Is the defending champion just that good? Or are there some greater forces at play here?
Lap 34 of the 63-lap race saw an incident that caused F1’s first red flag since Romain Grosjean’s car went up in flames last year. Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas, trying to get out of the foot of the Top 10, found himself in front of Williams’ George Russell.
Russell, widely touted to be a future Mercedes driver and the heir to Bottas’ seat, was gaining on the man ahead of him. He tried to move around outside, but Bottas wasn’t having it. In the heat of the moment, Bottas’ car slightly twitched to the right and Russell collided with his opponent, sending them both into the wall. Minutes later, the race was red-flagged.
Netflix and Drive to Survive producers surely rubbed their hands in glee, especially after the crash resulted in insults traded between the pair, and peaked with Bottas flipping Russell the finger.
However, the restart also hugely benefitted someone else, and that was the other Mercedes driver. Hamilton, whose calamitous blunder earlier in the race resulted in him going off-track and slumping to ninth place, was able to rejoin the lead lap after the race had been restarted.
What transpired after that was purely down to his brilliant recovery drive, as he romped all the way back to an astonishing P2. This result could be critical in the WDC fight, because while Verstappen secured P1 way ahead of the rest, Hamilton’s late charge into second place and fastest lap time means the latter’s lead is now just a solitary point.
Hamilton detractors had yet another reason to be mad. While Lewis may have delivered a masterclass at the business end of the race, there’s no doubt a huge slice of luck worked in Hamilton’s favour here. Before the red flag, the safety car couldn’t have come at a better time for him.
It allowed him to try and pressure Verstappen after the Dutchman overtook him for P1. Things only went better for him after the crash, because had the race not restarted, you couldn’t have said Hamilton would have finished where he did. Both McLarens and Ferraris were ahead of him. You especially have to feel for Ferrari’s Charles LeClerc, who after the restart went from defending a podium place to agonisingly finishing P4.
Meanwhile, the red flag allowed Hamilton to un-lap without time loss. Suddenly, he was in the running for the podium and crucial damage limitation points-wise. Make no mistake about it; the overtaking was all down to his talent, but if the red flag never happened and Hamilton finished outside the Top 5, Verstappen’s confidence would have grown hugely.
But Lewis’ mad fortune did not end there. The aforementioned one-point lead he now holds came down to the defending champion utilising a massive slipstream to bag a crucial point for the fastest lap time. Verstappen had the chance to take it away from him and level the WDC standings, but he conveniently ran into some traffic that prevented this from happening. It made for an exhilarating watch, but one that also made you question whether Hamilton really owns a monkey paw or something.
But what if he does? What if the monkey paw is Mercedes CEO Toto Wolff’s hand, or rather, hand in the race? What if this was Mercedes’ plan all along? They had to deal with Lewis losing a run-in with Verstappen, damaging his wing and subsequently conceding P1.
Then, Hamilton committed a rare mistake that saw him slide and nose into the wall. Toto executed a 5000 IQ move, and told his prodigy Russell to take Bottas, who was having a shambolic race, out of the equation with a crash. Better Hamilton’s high finish than two mediocre performances and Red Bull surging ahead.
This crash resulted in a red flag and a series of events that allowed Hamilton to secure P2 and stay in the WDC race. The cherry on the (Wolffspiracy) cake was Toto never defending Bottas once, instead choosing to speak only about Hamilton and Russell. He probably promised Russell a Mercedes seat next season for his services.
Time and again in F1 history, great champions have been dealt the lucky end of the stick. We saw this with prime Vettel, we (briefly) saw this with Rosberg, and we are seeing this with Hamilton. The speculative fan always wonders whether the F1 gods are involved in some string-pulling conspiracies.
Maybe they really are; these are strange times indeed. In a world where top European clubs are turning football into a cash machine, it’s not outlandish to suggest similar things could be happening in other sports as well.
Of course, it’s all a wild conspiracy theory, and it’s hardly the first time people have speculated about golden slices of luck that seemed too good to be true.
But, if F1 has such spicy narratives and incidents, and Mercedes has to work hard for every win, we are all in for it. This season has had a blistering start, and for the sake of Hamilton haters at least.
We hope results are more varied, though. As long as Toto can help it, though, such races can be remembered fondly with this little catchphrase: “Roses are red, violets are blue. Lewis got lapped, but still finished P2”.