Sir Jackie Stewart suggested yesterday that Lewis Hamilton has to learn to drive more cautiously if he is to be considered one of the greats after the 2008 world champion collided with old rival Felipe Massa as they battled for fifth place in Singapore on Sunday.
"He certainly knows how to drive and has a very large amount of natural talent," the Scot said. "But if he is going to be a great driver he cannot have serial incidents. None of the great drivers ever drove in that fashion. The Fangios, Jim Clarks, Niki Laudas, myself – we didn't have many accidents. Lewis has all the skills, but he jumps out of gear mentally."
The McLaren driver was already on his back foot in Singapore when, for reasons not readily understandable to everyone, the FIA refused to allow him a fresh rear supersoft Pirelli tyre to replace one punctured by debris in the second qualifying session. That immediately compromised his race strategy, such is the intensity of the competition at the front of F1 these days, and even with DRS overtaking is still far from easy. Throw in another poor start by Mark Webber, who cost Hamilton four places as he defended his own by blocking him going into the first corner, and it's not hard to see why Hamilton was pushing hard to recover. He also knew that Massa was a lot slower than him, as Ferrari admit that theirs is only the third fastest car now.
There was one great whom Stewart did not mention, who drove with the same rage to win that Hamilton exhibits: Gilles Villeneuve. The French-Canadian often had to overdrive poor machinery to get something from it, or while recovering from incidents, breeding a similar reputation as a hothead. He, like Hamilton now, tended to be in the spotlight more than most because of their spectacular style.
But others are not without blame. Stewart was only ever involved in two race track collisions; one came when the fiery Swiss Clay Regazzoni pushed him off the track in Germany in 1972, the other when he and rival Emerson Fittipaldi collided on their slowing down lap at Monaco the following year through a genuine misunderstanding.
But Lauda was a hothead back in 1974, his first season with Ferrari, as was Jody Scheckter in 1973, when he triggered the multiple pile-up on the second lap of the British GP. And Michael Schumacher... Today the stakes are so high, and car performance generally so evenly matched (Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull perhaps being a notable exception), that incidents are inevitably more frequent. Fernando Alonso, for example, widely acknowledged as one of the best, has had his moments, running into Hamilton in Malaysia and putting Vettel on the grass recently in Italy.
"I think he didn't expect me to go on the left, but as soon as he saw me he didn't back off but at least pulled to the right and gave me enough room," Vettel said, though they spoke about it afterwards. "It was borderline but I know that if I want to get past, I have to try something. Generally, if you race people like Fernando and people with a lot of experience and people you respect a lot, you can really push the limits and really go wheel to wheel without thinking about it, because you know that the guy will give you just enough room – not a lot but just enough."
"We have nothing to lose in the battles with Sebastian," admitted Alonso, whom Hamilton regards as his toughest rival. "He is leading the championship by 100 points I think, so when we have to defend we will be a little bit harder with him. Sorry."
Being hard, these days, has become even more the nature of the game. "When you are told you are back in 19th place on a circuit like that, it is deeply, deeply frustrating, so to deal with that and perform as well as he did was extraordinary – so Lewis should get some credit for that," McLaren chief Martin Whitmarsh suggested.Reuse content