Lewis Hamilton: 'I want what Red Bull have got, but it isn't as simple as that'

Lewis Hamilton admits his title hopes are fading but, he tells David Tremayne, he and his McLaren team can't be faulted for effort

The handshake is as potentially bone-crushing as ever, the smile broad and unaffected. For all that his critics will tell you that Lewis Hamilton's head is all screwed up these days, he looks perfectly relaxed as he steps aboard HMS Havengore at St Katherine's Pier on the Thames. It's about as miserable a day as it could be, with a darkened sky still hungover from a recent deluge. But Hamilton the competitor is grinning inside. That morning he's beaten his Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team-mate, Jenson Button, in a jetski race, and his blood is up. It doesn't matter that Jenson fell off after a lap and a half and slightly tweaked a knee; Hamilton set the fastest laps and that's what counts. Tiddleywinks, poker, a grand prix. It doesn't matter what it is, he plays to win.

That internal rage is part of the reason he's been accused of overdriving at times this season. And why he is desperate to add another British Grand Prix triumph to his tally this weekend at a time when Sebastian Vettel's latest cakewalk, in Valencia two weeks ago, took him to one career victory more than he has, 16 to 15.

Not so long ago he was the comingman that everyone was talking about, the youngest-ever world champion. Now Vettel has taken away both mantles, and it hurts. "He's taken away my youngest champion [tag] from me," Hamilton says thoughtfully, "and on the road he's on I hope he doesn't pull too far away in terms of wins."

What makes it especially tough is that Hamilton knows they aren't playing on an even field. The McLarens he has driven for the last three years have been race winners. But not championship winners. Vettel's Red Bull is once again the current class of the field, and his team have dominated Silverstone, scene of this Sunday's British GP, for the past two seasons. Hamilton, who won his home race in style back in 2008, is impatient for his own magic bullet.

The situation has been exacerbated by the need to temper his frustration with due respect for a brilliant team whose employees, both at the factory and at the race track, are doing their utmost to give him what he wants. More than any other sport, Formula One is a team game, even if the ultimate risk is taken by the man in the cockpit. Perhaps he's just lost his way a little; perhaps he's missing the calming effect of father Anthony's hand on his managerial tiller; perhaps it's as simple as it looks: he is driving a car that can't yet do what he wants and needs it to do.

Whatever the reason, some of the criticism he has been forced to withstand this year has been vicious. After he tapped Mark Webber into a gentle spin at the crowded start of the Canadian GP in June, three-time champion Niki Lauda said that he needed to be reined in before he killed someone. Emerson Fittipaldi, a two-time champion and McLaren's first, suggested that his driving was more aggressive than the late Ayrton Senna's, though clearly he did not remember that Hamilton's hero deliberately drove Alain Prost off the road, ahead of 24 cars full of fuel, at the start of the 1990 Japanese GP.

Hamilton insists all that doesn't hurt. "It doesn't affect me, to be honest, but if Ayrton was around and he said it, then I'd be deeply affected. What he did and said has huge meaning for me. People do forget the good things you do. I did good things in 2007 against Fernando. It's easy to forget."

But he admits that in the heat of the racing moment you can also forget things about yourself. "Sometimes when you have a frustrating weekend, it's easy to forget yourself who you are and what you stand for."

The McLaren team principal, Martin Whitmarsh, has been quick to defend his driver in these pages in the wake of Lauda and Fittipaldi's comments. "These are very quotable people, and very quotable people say things for effect. I know Niki and like him, and I accept that there are people around who want to say things to create controversy. Niki's in that category."

Of course, Hamilton regrets the numerous accidents and misfortunes that he's had in a bruising year, and in Valencia there were signs that he was taking a breather as he steered to fourth place and avoided a post-race meeting with the race stewards.

But that race showed the problem. His McLaren has not quite been a match for the Red Bull. So McLaren are pinning their hopes on the ban on off-throttle blown diffusers levelling the playing field this weekend, given that most accept that the blue cars derive a large chunk of their aerodynamic advantage from that part of the car. But even if that proves to be the case, Hamilton has a mountain to climb; at this midpoint, Vettel has 186 points to his 97, with 275 left to win.

"I think the title is a long way away," he admits philosophically. "That's disappointing, given the effort I've made this year. I've been training really hard, and somehow no matter how fit I am I manage to apply something more every year. I firmly believe that there isn't anybody else who does as much training as I do. There might be some who do the same, but no one does more.

"And I know how hard the team are pushing. We've moved on massively since 2007 and '08, and our biggest quality is our ability to bounce back. But this is the third year in a row when we haven't had a car with a chance of taking the title.

"It's a matter of having to drag yourself back up, and Silverstone is only the halfway point in the season. Inside, I have to hope that we'll find something and that we can then win every race and the world championship. But when you go to the next race and then the next one and the one after that, and you still haven't found that something, the chance goes. In the factory they are pushing as hard as they can, and I just apply positive pressure. I feel that I've given them a good direction of what I want to see in the car. It seems obvious: I want what Red Bull have, but it isn't as simple as that."

Of the rumours that Hamilton might eventually switch to Red Bull, Whitmarsh told The Independent recently: "He's sat with me here in the last 10 days and explained his passion, enthusiasm and desire to remain part of this team. I've known him since he was 11. I don't think he would look me in the eye and say that if he didn't mean it."

A victory at home this weekend would be a timely reminder to everyone just how potent the Hamilton-McLaren package can be. And might ensure that he stays put when his contract expires next year.

Hamilton's high and lows of the season so far

Three highs

Australia (finishes 2nd)

His McLaren proves more competitive than had been expected in the season opener.

China (P1)

Hamilton wins brilliantly after saving his tyres in qualifying and then hunting down Sebastian Vettel.

Spain (P2)

Hamilton pushes Vettel for the final 46 of 66 laps on a circuit considered far better suited to the Red Bull.

Three lows

Malaysia (P8)

Hamilton pushes his tyres too hard and needs a fourth pit stop.

Monaco (P6)

Involved in collisions with Felipe Massa and Pastor Maldonado. Rants intemperately at the race stewards after the race.

Canada (Ret)

Crashes into his team-mate, Button.

Drivers' championship standings

1 S Vettel (Ger) Red Bull 186pts

2 J Button (GB) McLaren 109

3 M Webber (Aus) Red Bull 109

4 L Hamilton (GB) McLaren 97

News
Lois Pryce... Life Without a Postcode. Lois lives on a boat with her husband.. Registering to vote in the election has prooved to be very difficult without a fixed residential post code. (David Sandison)
newsHow living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Sport
Steven Fletcher scores the second goal for Scotland
cricketBut they have to bounce back to beat Gibraltar in Euro 2016 qualifier
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing