Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton was forced to apologise yesterday after being arrested by police in Australia on suspicion of driving offences.
Britain's former world champion had just finished setting the fastest time in qualifying ahead of tomorrow's Australian Grand Prix when he left Albert Park racing circuit in Melbourne in a hired silver Mercedes. But shortly afterwards, at 9.15pm, he was stopped for allegedly "deliberately losing traction" of the vehicle.
Reports in the Australian media said that the 25-year-old had stopped in a quiet street to perform manoeuvres known as a "burnout" and a "fishtail". But the driver was pulled over by police, who spotted smoke coming from his tyres. The car was impounded and police said Hamilton will be charged with improper use of a motor vehicle. He is likely to face a fine.
After the incident Hamilton, who earns a reported £15m a year driving for McLaren, released a statement through his racing team apologising for his actions. "I was driving in an over-exuberant manner and, as a result, was stopped by the police," he said. "What I did was silly, and I want to apologise for it."
The Melbourne Herald Sun reported that Hamilton told police he was worried that the incident would dent his reputation. "It would have been fair to say he was disappointed," the police officer, Scott Woodford, told the newspaper.
The same paper also carried quotes from an eyewitness who said the 2008 World Drivers Champion tried to hide his face from spectators by slumping in his seat. The witness said: "He had his head between his legs. He looked like he was thinking 'Oh my God, what the hell?'" As Hamilton's car was towed away, he was taken into the back of a police car and questioned. Police later took Hamilton back to his hotel. The eyewitness continued: "It was pretty cool to watch. He was hiding in his car. They [the police] knew who he was."
The Melbourne Herald Sun described Hamilton's conduct as "hoon driving", a term which has gained semi-official use in Australia, used to describe antisocial driving activity. It is not the first time Hamilton has been in trouble for his driving off the race track. In December 2007 he was suspended from driving in France for a month after being caught speeding at 121mph on a motorway. His Mercedes car was again impounded.
A spokesman for Victoria Police said: "A 25-year-old man who resides in Switzerland will be charged on summons in relation to improper use of a vehicle. The car was intercepted by a police unit and the details of the driver were taken. The vehicle was seen allegedly deliberately losing traction. The car was taken and will be impounded for 48 hours.
"There were no problems whatsoever when the driver was stopped. He was assisted back to his hotel. He was with a male passenger in the car."Reuse content