As the impassioned Lewis Hamilton fan I am
As the impassioned Lewis Hamilton fan I am, I read Neil Goff?s post on F1Podcast with interest. It makes some good points about Lewis? career, but on others I disagreed, and thought Lewis needed a defence – so I?m writing this post as a reply to Neil to say ? Lewis will rock F1 again, just you wait and see!
Neil is pretty spot on when he says many (or all?!) of Lewis? seasons in F1 have contained some serious errors. But which driver can honestly look back at a season and say they haven?t done the same? Senna, Schumacher, Prost ? they all made their fair share of mistakes too. The mistakes are part of the reason I find Hamilton such a joy to watch too. As a Mansell fan in the 1990s you were never entirely sure if his next move was going to be one of sheer genius or folly, and you get the same roller-coaster ride with Lewis. Its a shame the pair seem to have a bit of an antagonistic relationship, because they are actually quite similar racers ? in a positive way. Saying that I do think Hamilton has a clear edge over Mansell in natural ability and speed. And as a huge Mansell fan that?s a major compliment.
So does Lewis make more mistakes than others? There were moments in his rookie year he did make mistakes, but they generally came at the high-pressure stage at the end of the season, and its unfair to criticise a rookie for feeling the heat of a title charge, especially when he still beat his team mate. 2008 had, arguably, more scrappy moments, memorably the pit lane incident in Canada and the famous penalty in Spa. But I still hold firm in my contention that he won the championship in the 2nd best car ? that Ferrari was quicker. And this I think is the key point ? excepting his first season Hamilton has, I believe, never had the quickest car on the grid. And when he is in that situation he has a clear tendency to over-drive in an effort to reach the front of the field, a position his head tells him is where he should always be. Often this leads to race like last year?s Chinese or German Grand Prix, when he was absolutely on fire. There are also races however where the head really need to over-rule the heart and accept the win is not on, and the fight is to simply get what you can from the race.
His lifestyle outside of F1 holds little interest for me (heck, not much outside motorsport does hold much interest for me!). It?s his life and he can live it how he chooses. But I would agree that last year, amongst some other issues, he did let his life outside F1 impact on his racing. I imagine no-one is more disappointed with that than Lewis himself, and, while I?m not sure I agree with Neil that he has taken his F1 career for granted, I do agree he would benefit from refocusing on what he does best. I hope the tail end of 2011 showed signs of that being to be the case.
I?m also not sure I can agree that Hamilton was any less of a rookie by the time he came to F1 than other drivers. He certainly had a great apprenticeship at the team, but I remember there being serious doubts about whether he was being brought into F1 too soon in 2007. He may have had a great deal of support through the feeder series, but he nailed his opportunities in each one ? this was a driver that was coming through come Hell or high water. No matter how much Hamilton had his feet under the table at McLaren there is really no way that a rookie should be beating a double World Champion, who has so much more experience of the sport. The only way to do that is through your racing ability. However bad their relationship got, Alonso clearly sees this himself, as he always picks out Hamilton as his biggest rival. Detractors often say the team was moulded around Hamilton and Alonso never stood a chance. I can?t disagree with this more ? McLaren are far too astute an operation to hire a double World Champion and to then throw their resources at a young rookie. The way Jenson Button has (to his great credit) come into McLaren and made it his home show that the team is genuinely an open operation, giving a fair crack of the whip to both drivers.
While the above makes it sound like I am an unabashed Hamilton-apologist this couldn?t be further from the case. He makes mistakes and often I sit shaking my head at some of his decisions on track. But 2011 is the one year that stands out to me (and I?m sure many Lewis fans) as the first where, on an overall level, there was a sense of real disappointment. The car wasn?t quick enough, but as said already, he has outperformed his car before, in 2009 especially. In 2010 too its pretty clear to me that Hamilton was taking his car to levels of performance it really didn?t warrant. But in 2011 the pressure of constantly feeling the need to try to out-perform his car, and still not being able to fight the leaders, clearly exposed cracks that led to a pretty torrid season. It really all started to go bad in Monaco. The poor grid slot (which was out of his control) led to that reckless and impetuous move on Massa at the hairpin, which set the tone for much of the season. There is a clear case to be made that over the last five years Hamilton has been F1′s best overtaker, but 2011 was littered with errors in this passing attempts. From half-moves that went terribly wrong (on Massa in Singapore), to over optimistic moves, doomed to failure (like the one on Massa in India), and to moves which were just plain odd (the Spa overtake on Kamui) it seemed like Hamilton had lost his touch.
But lets write 2011 off now. There were clearly a range of issues going on in Lewis? head last year, and we can only hope these have been ironed out so that we get the old Lewis back, hopefully seeing his at the very least win the inter-team battle at McLaren. I?m not ashamed to say I was one of those thinking Jenson Button had made a big mistake joining McLaren (though I respected his balls in taking on the challenge). I?m also not ashamed to say just how wrong I was to under-estimate JB. It?s impossible to know how well he was really performing in some of the cars BAR/Honda provided for him, but it definitely seems he is currently in the form of his career. However, I still believe an on-form Hamilton will beat Button ? but the battle for supremacy at McLaren is all set to be a tasty fight, and it?s making me look forward to 2012 almost as much as the battle for the title!
Written by: Chris Page
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