Stewart calls on Hamilton to be 'deflated' as bubble bursts
Everybody has an opinion of what Lewis Hamilton is cur-rently doing wrong, just as last year everyone had an opinion about what he was doing right. But when the man expressing an opinion is Sir Jackie Stewart – ahead of next week's British Grand Prix, which will be a critical event for Hamilton – you tend to listen more keenly.
Not just because Stewart has won more than four times as many races as Britain's brown-eyed boy, nor because he is three World Championships up on him. But because of all the greats, it is Stewart whom Hamilton most resembles, and along whose lines he could most profitably mould his own career. He is not the next Jackie Stewart, but the first Lewis Hamilton. Yet that doesn't mean that he, or his father and manager Anthony, cannot look and learn.
The Scot has always been a great role model. Like Hamilton he won in his first season in 1965 as team-mate to the infinitely more experienced champion Graham Hill. But crucially, he was shrewd enough to know what Hamilton didn't know.
In 1968, Hill beat him to the world crown after a season-long fight. But for a scaphoid injury, Stewart would probably have won it. But he was sufficiently astute to admit: "I was not ready at that time in my life to have done justice to winning the World Championship. I just wasn't ready for it and all the pressures it brought."
A year later he was, and he dominated in Ken Tyrrell's Matra Ford. In 1971 and 1973 he was similarly the yardstick. Besides a preternaturally calm demeanour – he likened his mood on race day to a deflated balloon – he was the master of mind management.
"I was one of the first to start using the term," Stewart says. "I believe it was one of the single most important ingredients that I had as a racing driver. Denis Jenkinson was one of my most fervent critics – he called me a 'milk and water' racer – yet he once wrote that I was a great driver but the problem was that there was no passion there.
"I was clinical. It was one of the greatest compliments he could have paid me. I had worked out that the biggest enemy I had was emotion. Whenever I did not control emotion I lost the plot. I failed to get the very best out of the car and myself."
It's interesting to consider that when you hear Hamilton talking after last weekend's French Grand Prix, his second race in a row without points, which left him trailing new series leader and race winner Felipe Massa by 10 points. Last year Hamilton was the glacier as Fernando Alonso came unglued.
When Hamilton says after the race: "I'm still here, there's nothing you can do to get me out of it. I have no worries about how far behind I am. Kimi [Raikkonen] was 17 points behind and still won last year. I could be 20 points behind, I don't care, I'll still come back," you sense in his understandable defensiveness the child in the man screaming defiance into a high wind.
"Lewis is already world famous, thanks to the amazing opportunity he was given last year, and the incredible skill with which he took advantage of it," Stewart says. "He's experiencing both the privilege and the penalty of celebrity. He's excited the media so much, and now some people are starting to feel let down. But we should remember that Lewis has only been in F1 for 15 months. He's not the finished article yet – and it's wrong to think that he should be. He might not like to hear this but he has a fundamental lack of experience at the top of the sport. If he asked my advice, I'd say, 'Take your time, and don't expect too much of yourself'.
"I know because I've been there myself. I had a big accident in my second year, which I was lucky to survive. Over the next few years I changed: I gained experience, which gave me knowledge, which in turn enabled me to deliver."
It remains to be seen whether Hamilton can do that for his fans next weekend, but it won't be for lack of trying. What 2008 has shown is he has yet to master the knack of not over-trying.
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