Hamilton seeking Shanghai redemption

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The Independent Online

Lewis Hamilton today exorcised a few demons, with the aim now to purge several more on Sunday.

Hamilton returned to the Shanghai International Circuit for the first time since sliding into a gravel trap just over a year ago, an incident that helped wreck his Formula One world title dreams.

Being back on track appeared to be a liberating experience for the 23-year-old, not least in the wake of a week in which he has been at the centre of a critical storm.

His botched attempt to pass Kimi Raikkonen at the first corner of the Fuji Speedway in Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix has drawn scorn from every angle.

Drivers past and present have seemingly queued up to bash the Briton, with Renault boss Flavio Briatore today also wading in, claiming Hamilton will again throw away the title as he did last year.

Hamilton, though, showed scant regard for such comments by enjoying what he described as "one of my best Fridays of the season".

For the first time since the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim in mid-July when he last won a race, the McLaren star finished top of the timesheets at the end of both practice sessions, and comfortably so.

As for what other people think of him, Hamilton simply does not care.

"I've not read the stuff, but I know people have made comments," countered Hamilton, who has been accused of an aggressive approach on track.

"That's fine with me. They have the right to their own opinion. All I can do is respect that.

"It's a shame they all think that way, but my driving is why I'm here and why I'm leading the championship, and I'm not disappointed with the way I drive.

"I do my talking on the track. If other people want to expend their energy thinking about it (the way I drive), that's for them.

"As you can see I don't clash with people, so they (other drivers) can't be that aggressive."

Mark Webber and Jarno Trulli, two of his recent detractors, pulled out of confronting Hamilton directly in today's drivers' briefing that passed without incident.

This past week, though, it appears anybody willing to speak has an opinion on Hamilton, and it must feel as if the world is against him.

But it is a price he appears willing to pay, adding: "If I was in a Force India at the back of the field no-one would have anything to say about me.

"But everyone has something to say about the people who are at the front and are successful, and whether it's positive or negative it doesn't really matter.

"As long as I'm happy and the team is happy, then that's all that matters.

"I just look at previous world champions and previous seasons, and a lot of people that have been at the front have had these kind of situations.

"But it's normal. I have to ride the wind and see how the result comes out in the end."

Being behind the wheel certainly reinvigorated Hamilton, a case of doing what he does best.

He returned to the track's pit lane, the scene of heartbreak last October when a greasy surface and worn tyres saw him end up in the gravel.

The 23-year-old McLaren star has since watched replays of the incident on YouTube, and then yesterday even looked over the spot on his track walk.

Going through it again in the car was a different matter, but he made sure he expelled it from his system.

"I had to make sure I went at it (the pit lane) as hard as possible to get rid of any bugs I might have been carrying from last year," said Hamilton.

"It is tough because you come in so quick and you have no reference for braking, and then all of a sudden the corner is in your face.

"It is so narrow on the exit, but I didn't have any problems."

With that out of the way, he can look to qualifying tomorrow and the race on Sunday when he can win the title.

A victory here combined with nearest rival Felipe Massa finishing no higher than fifth will see Hamilton confirmed as the youngest champion in F1 history.

But that is far from his mind as all Hamilton is concerned about it making amends for his error in Fuji.

"My mentality is that I'm not looking at winning it here," insisted Hamilton.

"Last year I was thinking it would have been easy to have won it here in this race.

"But I'm looking at the fact I have two races and it's important we attack those two races, finish those two races.

"I'm not going into this race saying 'it has to be done now'. I just want to redeem myself for last week."