Lewis Hamilton has conceded that his hopes of successfully defending his hard-fought Formula 1 Drivers' World Championship crown are now all-but over, after a mistake in qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix at the weekend destroyed arguably his best chance of the season so far to shine.
The McLaren-Mercedes star has notched up just nine points to-date this year, as his MP4-24 has proven to be aerodynamically inefficient and particularly off the pace at high-speed circuits. Though that may have limited Hamilton to a lowly and lapped ninth spot at the chequered flag in Barcelona just over a fortnight ago, hopes for Monaco – around the narrow and tortuous streets where he had so famously triumphed only twelve months earlier – were somewhat higher.
Having been a mainstay inside the top three throughout Thursday practice, the 24-year-old headed into qualifying with a spring in his step and the smile back on his face – and aiming for a top five grid slot at the very least. That was until he lost control with eight minutes remaining in Q1, clouting the barriers at Mirabeau and breaking his car's rear suspension, with a subsequent gearbox change relegating him to the very back of the grid for race day and consigning him to a thankless task in the grand prix around a track where overtaking is virtually outlawed.
Now 42 points adrift of world championship-leading Brawn GP compatriot Jenson Button in the title standings with eleven races remaining, Hamilton knows the odds are almost impossibly stacked against him – and he fears a return to Spanish Grand Prix form for the upcoming outings in Turkey and on home turf at Silverstone, high-speed circuits both and therefore likely to expose the MP4-24's inherent weaknesses.
The Stevenage-born ace stormed to one of his most popular and spellbinding victories in the sodden British Grand Prix last year – imperiously taking the chequered flag more than a minute ahead of his nearest pursuer in torrential conditions – but he is slowly coming around to the acceptance, it seems, that the 2009 season is one to endure, rather than to enjoy.
“It's very tough,” reflected the nine-time grand prix-winner, speaking to the Daily Telegraph
, “but we all go through it. All world champions go through tough times, and that's what we're going through. I doubt very much whether I can fight for the championship now, but I'll keep pushing and we'll see what happens.
“I won't give up. I'm ready to fight another day in Turkey because bit-by-bit we are getting better, but we're just not as quick as the Brawns. Jenson and the Brawn team are doing a fantastic job this year. Clearly he is in the best position to win the championship, and all the best to him. I'd definitely put my money on him.
“[Monaco] was just Monaco – don't get your hopes up [for Istanbul]. When we get to Turkey it will be an even tougher race because it's all high-speed corners, and we don't have a good car for those. It will be a similar finish to Barcelona, but we will push to get as high as possible. I just hope my car improves and then we can start challenging for wins or some good points.”