Hamilton frustration in the fast lane could be solved by a coach

After a mediocre few weeks, the Formula One star has had plenty of advice – but, says a fellow British racer, he should be concentrating on just one voice, writes David Tremayne
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The Independent Online

Does Lewis Hamilton's defiance in the face of sometimes self-induced defeat smack a little too much of a child screaming its anger into a high wind?

It's a tempting scenario ahead of his biggest race of the year, but the reality is that Britain's greatest hope for world championship honours is simply going through the inevitable process of earning his spurs in the big league that he seemed so easily capable of dominating, at times, in a sensational debut season last year when he won four races and only lost the title to Kimi Raikkonen in the final round. This year there have been some very public mistakes, first in Bahrain, then in Canada. Some have taken them as signs that the pressure is getting to him.

Yesterday, however, support and a measure of sympathy came from an unlikely source, one of his main championship rivals Felipe Massa.

"Lewis showed straight away last year that he is a great driver," the points leader said. "Yeah, he was lucky to get into a great car straight away. When I moved from Sauber to Ferrari I saw immediately how things in a big team can be so much different. How much easier it is to have a competitive car. But he also showed that something is missing. He was quick, but he lost the world championship through inexperience. And in the first year he had no pressure. Now he starts to learn much quicker how hard it is gonna be to win the world championship. He is a great driver, consistent and quick, but he also makes mistakes like we all do, because he is a human being."

In recent weeks Hamilton's relationship with a sometimes critical media has been edgy. "I can take constructive criticism," he said. "But I don't read any of it. You hear about it, but what difference should that make to me, because I'm doing my job and enjoying myself. It doesn't affect my life in any way, shape or form.

"Sure the opinion you end up giving people does affect me because at the end of the day I'm not a mean guy and I'm out there doing the best job I can. Small mistakes happen. I'm sure everyone makes similar mistakes, but you're not in the spotlight like me. But then none of you have a clue about what I'm talking about..."

The media did not appear to be the only body in that boat yesterday. Moments after Hamilton had agreed with Jenson Button to participate in a charity triathlon, his father and manager Anthony vetoed the idea.

Advice from Britain's latest world champion, multiple touring car championship title winner Andy Priaulx, hit a little closer to home.

"These days racing is in the mind. Everyone out there is good, and they all deserve to win. Lewis needs to recapture his driving from last year. He needs to find that relaxed style again. We see him making the odd mistake, and that is not down to his ability. He wouldn't be doing that if he was driving naturally, the way he showed that he can.

"Like him, I have my family behind me all the time, and I also draw on them. My father Graham always helped me with my racing, and my wife Jo is always supportive. But as a racing driver you get so many opinions, hundreds a day, and very often your family cannot always see what is happening. You need to look at yourself in the mirror and see your own weaknesses, which your family cannot always see. And then you need to do something about them. A pat on the back is always good to get, but sometimes you need more."

Priaulx is almost unique among racing drivers in employing a driving coach, former Formula Ford ace John Pratt. "I always debrief myself in the car, but John has a racing mind and will pull me up if need be. You know, Lewis might be nibbling the kerb at Priory whereas Fernando will be biting it fully. You need somebody to be totally honest with you. You have coaches in all other sports, so why not in motorsport?

"If you look at Michael Schumacher, he was always 100 per cent focused on his driving, he was not an emotional man, but I think Lewis has been misled at times by the opinion of others. He needs one advisor who is unbiased and unemotional, and to be his own worst critic in the most positive way."

Coulthard announces retirement

As Lewis Hamilton prepares to race in front of his home crowd, veteran David Coulthard revealed yesterday that he will bring down the curtain at the end of the season on a career that yielded 13 grand prix victories but never built sufficiently on its early promise to emulate those of compatriots Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart.

"My decision to retire is based on a desire to stop while I am still competitive and enjoying the immense challenge that Grand Prix driving represents," the 37-year-old said.

Coulthard has not ruled out racing in other categories, but has also been linked to a role with the BBC when it takes over F1 coverage in 2009.

"I have an open mind as to whether or not I will compete again in the future, in some other form of motorsport, so I am definitely not hanging up my helmet," said the Scot, who has started 236 races, more than any other British driver.

David Tremayne