Stage-managed Lewis struggles to cope, claims Le Mans king

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The Independent Online

Lewis Hamilton has been told by Britain's most accomplished all-round driver that he must come through the ordeal of being an also-ran to emerge a more complete champion.

Double Le Mans winner Allan McNish is not alone in believing Hamilton had too much, too soon, but urges him to draw inspiration from the commitment of Nigel Mansell and Jenson Button rather than wallow in self-pity.

Two fantasy seasons catapulted Hamilton to the status of Formula One's youngest world champion, but this year's somersaulting fortunes have left him and McLaren among the stragglers, while Button heads towards glorious vindication with Brawn GP.

McNish, who had an ill-starred flirtation with Formula One, says this confrontation with racing life outside the privileged classes provides Hamilton with his potentially defining challenge. "Lewis must appreciate how lucky he was to get straight into a winning F1 car," McNish said. "After everything that came his way in his first two years, he's had a massive wake-up call and realises it can all disappear. The question for Lewis is: can he cope? The answer right now is that he's struggling to cope. His career has been largely stage-managed and suddenly he's lost a lot of support structures, notably his boss, Ron Dennis.

"Other drivers have been where Lewis finds himself. It depends how you react. Lewis is still a very good driver and self-assured to an extent, but this is the challenge for him."

McNish and Audi have a challenge of their own to overcome in the Le Mans 24-hour race next weekend, when an iconic British car is back in the running for outright success. The name is Martin, Aston Martin. One of Aston's British drivers, Darren Turner, wants that ultimate accolade after contributing to the marque's GT1 class victories for the past two years.

Turner said: "I'd love to ruffle Allan's feathers. He's done brilliantly and he's an inspiration for all British drivers. Maybe there's room for another Brit on that podium."