Lewis Hamilton faces a stiff test at Turkey

April, 27, 2011
04/27/11
11:38
AM ET

Heading to Turkey, one would think Lewis Hamilton had all the momentum on the planet behind him. Coming off one of his greatest career victories in Formula One, Hamilton displayed the ability of McLaren to compete with -- and best -- Red Bull. After a down offseason, the team has clearly made tremendous strides in a short amount of time.

The fact that Hamilton is the defending winner at Turkey would seem to make him a strong favorite on May 8, but in reality, the 2008 world champion will be fortunate to finish among the top 10.

Incredibly, of the 10 times Hamilton has entered a grand prix as the defending winner, he's finished 12th or worse a staggering eight times, including his disqualification at Australia in 2009. On the two occasions when he has finished better than 10th, he's still never made the podium.

It's hard to believe that a driver of Hamilton's caliber has had such little success defending a win from the previous year, and some of it can simply be attributed to bad fortune. In 2010 at Hungary, Hamilton retired with gearbox issues, while later that year in Singapore, his collision with Mark Webber sidelined him prematurely. Hard luck aside, Hamilton will have his work cut out for him.

The break between China and Turkey will provide teams some time to make adjustments for the coming European swing, as well as reflect on the season thus far. For a team like Force India, it's been a very mixed bag. The team scored points in Australia, but only because both Sauber cars were disqualified. Force India has just four points on the season, equal to Toro Rosso and fewer than Sauber. Considering that Vijay Mallya's squad scored more than five times as many points as Toro Rosso last season, this year thus far has to be considered a step back.

One positive has been the pace of rookie Paul di Resta, however. He's finished better than teammate and more experienced counterpart Adrian Sutil twice in three events and has outqualified the German in every race. The cousin of IndyCar star Dario Franchitti has gone the distance in each of his first three races, and he's the first rookie since Sebastien Buemi in 2009 to do so.

Istanbul likely cannot come soon enough for Mercedes, as the team is fresh off its best showing of the season by far. The team began pit cycles before the majority of the front-runners, allowing for Nico Rosberg to lead over a dozen laps before finishing in fifth. He likely would have been competing for a podium had he not had to conserve fuel.

Teammate Michael Schumacher checked in eighth at China, his best result of the season. At this point in his comeback, however, much more was expected. Through 22 races with Mercedes, Schumacher has yet to lead a lap or score a podium result.

He's also yet to finish among the top five in consecutive races, something Nico Rosberg has done four times in that same span. While his first year in a Ferrari was trying as well, he was still able to find relative success, winning three times while finishing third in the 1996 world championship.

It's a bit bizarre to see the all-time F1 leader in wins, poles, fastest laps, podiums and laps led add to none of those totals so far in his stint with Mercedes, and few likely predicted that would be the case this far into his comeback.

Schumacher always has been very good at getting the most out of his car, and perhaps with the strong performance by Mercedes in China, fans will see a podium result in the near future.

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