Hamilton: 'I could drive around and not overtake anyone. That's easy. But that's not me'

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His body language said it all.

Lewis Hamilton leaned with his back against the wall yesterday, and his aura positively screamed: "Oh no, not again." Less than a third of the way through the first practice session of the race he simply must finish in order to keep his fading World Championship dream alive, he had crashed his McLaren. For the third time in three races.

It was the Hungarian Grand Prix in July where things began to go wrong for the British driver as he retired with a transmission failure.

Then he won magnificently in Belgium, before colliding on the first lap at Monza with Felipe Massa after he put himself in a vulnerable position and suffered a broken suspension when the Ferrari driver made light contact.

A fortnight later, when the Singapore Grand Prix was restarted after a safety car period, he regained third place from Red Bull's Mark Webber, but retired with a damaged suspension again when the Australian refused to give in and they had what is termed a racing accident, where two hard-headed drivers go for the same piece of road at the same time.

How you view Hamilton's recent misadventures depends on how you define racing drivers. Should they behave like automatons, who drive round and round, as Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel did in Singapore, perfect lap after perfect lap in appalling heat and humidity, the one holding station, the other challenging only insofar as he applied distant pressure without ever getting into a striking position? Or should they always go for it and mix it up with a rival, the way Hamilton did at Monza with Massa, or in Singapore when he challenged Webber?

"We are always on the ragged edge," Hamilton admits, and though he likes to style himself on his racing hero Ayrton Senna, he is in truth more like the legendary French-Canadian Gilles Villeneuve, for whom victories were always sweeter than championships. Villeneuve's scrap with René Arnoux for second place in the 1979 French Grand Prix remains the greatest televised battle in post-war grand prix racing.

"We are always trying to gain position, while staying safe," Hamilton continues. "Some of us are more aggressive than others. Some people do a lot less overtaking than others. You just try to keep out of trouble. Of course it's not easy. Racing is racing and there are racing incidents every now and then, so that's to be expected."

He is a true racer, with the heart and psychological approach of the warrior, unwilling to be bowed, never prepared just to sit back and let somebody else dictate to him. Some in his position might be tempted just to follow a rival home, but that's not his style.

"I think it's very easy to get your emotions mixed up with your thought process, but after coming away from it, there are still four races to go and looking back at the history of the sport and looking back particularly at this season and seeing how close it still is, after many people made mistakes and certain situations arose, it clearly shows that it isn't impossible to win. I still feel very optimistic. I still know that clearly I have a tough job ahead of me and it's going to be tough for all of us, but I feel that I have as good an opportunity as anyone so I'm going to work as hard as I can to make sure that I finish the races.

"I'm looking at how my approach has been and trying to take a step back and to see it as something I can improve on. It's difficult to pinpoint one particular part. Of course, I could just drive around and not overtake anyone, just stay in position. That's easy enough but that's not me, so that definitely won't be happening."

Once a racer, always a racer. It's a relief to know there's at least one of them still out there.

Fight to the finish: The five who can win the championship

No 1: Mark Webber, Red Bull 202 points

If Webber in his cannot beat Vettel here, then he needs to make sure he finishes second to minimise the damage to his points lead. He looked calm and strong yesterday, and there is no reason why he cannot leave here even further ahead if he plays the long game and stays smart.

No 2: Fernando Alonso, Ferrari 191 points

Alonso is the man in form right now, and the Ferrari is strong on both low- and high-downforce circuits while its V8 engine produces more horsepower than Red Bull's Renault unit. He'll be a very strong contender tomorrow, and may just be the long-run favourite in the championship fight.

No 3: Lewis Hamilton, McLaren 182 points

If bad things come in threes, Hamilton will be hoping that yesterday morning's shunt ends the recent run of bad luck that saw him crash in both the Monza and Singapore races. It will be a stretch to win here, but he needs a decent finish to earn more crucial points.

No 4: Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull 181 points

Vettel made no mistakes in setting the fastest times in both of yesterday's practice sessions on a circuit he loves and at which he was victorious last year. The Red Bull RB6 is superbly suited to this place, with its excellent aerodynamics and he will be a leading contender if he avoids the hot-headedness that compromised his race in Belgium.

No 5: Jenson Button, McLaren 177 points

Button has made the fewest mistakes of all the title contenders this year and has driven some exquisite races, notably in Australia, China and Monza. He's unobtrusively fast, impeccably smooth and does not take much out of the car. Has made a good start so far this weekend.