It is Hamilton's burning rage to win that is causing him to overdrive slower car
Briton has made mistakes – but that's down to the frustration of his McLaren not matching the Red Bull. David Tremayne reports
Tuesday 14 June 2011
As fresh evidence emerged that Lewis Hamilton may be moving closer to a drive alongside Sebastian Vettel at Red Bull when his contract with McLaren expires at the end of this season, the 2008 world champion found himself not only on the receiving end of a race-ruining nudge from team-mate Jenson Button but vituperative criticism of his own driving.
This followed his frustrating previous Grand Prix – in Monte Carlo – when he and McLaren unfathomably decided not to go for a banker lap and to do just one run which was subsequently ruined by Sergio Perez's accident. Then in the race he received a drive-through penalty after a brush with Felipe Massa and a 20-second penalty to his race time for another with Pastor Maldonado. He was unable to contain himself afterwards and launched his ill-judged racist accusation at the stewards. This led to him apologising to them, Massa and Maldonado and the FIA president, Jean Todt.
In Canada, then, a low profile might have been in order but his driving was typically aggressive and crashing out hurt. After his recent run of misfortune, some of it self-induced, others who might expect Hamilton to step light-heartedly from his car with a cavalier wave and say graciously, "Hey, no sweat man, it's just another race," are naive in the extreme and understand little of the pressures on competitive sportsmen.
Hamilton's current "problem" is simple; like the late Gilles Villeneuve he is fired by a "rage to win".
And right now, for the third year running, McLaren have started a season with a car that cannot yet match the Red Bull. Hamilton, the best driver out there, is becoming increasingly frustrated watching the prime years of his career slipping away, especially after the last two races, for which he started favourite, yielded just one sixth place finish. But one man's over-aggression is another's insouciant brilliance, and at this level the line between the two is as fine as baby hair.
Hamilton is a racer, just like Fernando Alonso, and they are the only two men currently able to get anywhere near Vettel's Red Bull. That's why he is occasionally overdriving, and why he spent time talking in the Montreal paddock with Red Bull team principal Christian Horner. He needs to win, and that means investigating every opportunity.
Or sometimes stepping over the line trying to make your machinery do something it doesn't quite want to do.
Niki Lauda and Emerson Fittipaldi, former world champions both, weighed in and are entitled to be critical but they were hard drivers themselves. After Hamilton spun Mark Webber on the opening lap, Lauda said on RTL Television that he should be punished by the FIA.
"What Hamilton did there goes beyond all boundaries," said the trenchant Austrian veteran, himself a hothead back in 1974. "He is completely mad. If the FIA does not punish him, I do not understand the world any more. At some point there has to be an end to all the jokes. You cannot drive like this – as it will result in someone getting killed."
Fittipaldi agreed that Hamilton was too aggressive, but rather surprisingly said his driving was less acceptable than his own countryman Ayrton Senna's, even though Senna deliberately took Alain Prost out of the 1990 Japanese Grand Prix by crashing into the back of his Ferrari at full speed.
"I think Lewis is an exceptional talent, a world champion, but sometimes he is too aggressive when he tries to overtake," Fittipaldi said. "It was like that in Monaco with Felipe, placing half of the car in the sidewalk and putting Felipe in a dangerous position. I think there has to be a limit for being aggressive, respecting the others and still being competitive. You can be competitive, but you have to respect the others."
Button was more laidback about his own coming together with Hamilton. "I've spoken to Lewis and we both agree it was just one of those things," he said. "I was able to take the win. It was a fantastic race, but I think even if I hadn't won I would have enjoyed it immensely. An amazing win, and possibly my best."
Bumpy ride: Hamilton's season of run-ins
Malaysian GP (10 April) With 10 laps remaining, Hamilton tries to prevent Fernando Alonso from overtaking him. The two collide, damaging Alonso's front wing.
Steward verdict: Both drivers were found guilty. Hamilton of making more than one change of direction in his attempt to hold off Alonso, and the Spaniard with causing the collision. Both drivers have 20 seconds added to their race times.
Spanish GP (21 May) Another punishment for Hamilton's conduct during qualifying. He was one of four drivers hauled in front of the stewards for failing to slow down under the yellow flag which followed a crash involving Heikki Kovalainen. Hamilton, in fact, set his quickest sector times under the flag.
Steward verdict: Hamilton reprimanded
Monaco GP (28-29 May) The 2008 world champion gets in trouble during qualifying again. Hamilton drove across the kerb at the second Swimming Pool chicane.
Steward verdict: Hamilton's lap was disallowed by the stewards, leaving him with no Q3 time and dropping him down to ninth place.
During the race itself, Hamilton was twice penalised for driving too aggressively. First, for a collision with Felipe Massa. Then, a similar incident with the Williams of Pastor Maldonado followed later.
Steward verdict: For the Massa collision, Hamilton was given a drive-through penalty which cost him two places. For the Maldonado incident, another penalty added 20 seconds to his final time.
Canadian GP (12 June) Hamilton collided twice in Sunday's Canadian Grand Prix. On the first corner, he hit Mark Webber (above), spinning the Australian from fourth position down to 12th. On the first corner of lap eight Hamilton was pursuing his team-mate Button in the early stages of the Canadian Grand Prix on Sunday. He tried to overtake Button in the narrow gap between his opponent and the pit wall. The two cars collided, and Button shouted into his radio.
Steward verdict: No case to answer, as the Button collision retired Hamilton.
Wet and wild: five brilliant drives in the rain chosen by David Tremayne
Jenson Button Canada 2011
He inadvertently took off his team-mate, served a drive-through penalty for excessive speed behind a safety car, collided with Fernando Alonso and lost time hobbling back to the pits with tyre damage which dropped him to last place, yet Button still won a crazy race through a combination of superb driving and brilliant strategic teamwork.
Ayrton Senna Donington 1993
This was arguably Senna's day of days, when he moved from sixth to first on the opening lap, took on the faster Williams-Renaults of Alain Prost and Damon Hill in his McLaren-Ford, and ran rings around them in the wet. The circuit alternated between dry and wet – Senna charged throughout. Listening afterwards to Prost's litany of problems, Senna said quietly that he would have been happy to swap cars with the humbled Frenchman.
Ayrton Senna Portugal 1985
Portugal gave Senna his first grand prix victory after a brilliant drive in the Lotus-Renault on a day when even Alain Prost spun his McLaren on the pit straight on standing water. Senna drove majestically all race to leave his sodden rivals simply floundering in his turbulent wake.
Jackie Stewart Germany 1968
The terrifying old Nürburgring (or 14 miles of "Green Hell" as it was dubbed owing to the trees lining the track) was thick with rain and fog. Stewart, who hated the track, drove Ken Tyrrell's Matra-Ford to beat Graham Hill by four minutes in the greatest race of his remarkable career. And this in a year when there had already been four drivers killed in as many months.
Gilles Villeneuve Canada 1981
The stellar Villeneuve didn't win this one, but his driving of an outclassed, uncompetitive car in terrible conditions was simply outstanding as he finished third even though he had lost the front wing. Did that make a difference to the handling? "No," he replied, "it's a shitbox with the wing, too!"
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