Saturday 17 February 2018

F1: Hamilton shining brightest of the golden generation

Behind the bling lies a driver of rare talent, writes David Kennedy

In case you didn't know it, you are witnessing a golden age in F1 where as many as five drivers are fighting it out at the highest level and there are probably another five who have the potential to win but not necessarily the equipment with which to do it. We haven't seen this density of talent since the likes of Mansell, Prost, Senna and Piquet.

Lewis Hamilton is currently top of the crop and he left Canada with a decisive win under his belt and the sort of performance that should afford him a cast-iron belief that he can win this title.

Certainly making the right tyre choice was crucial to his success, but Hamilton also had the car for this unique circuit. He may have had to ditch the new diamond-geezer earrings -- from a safety and weight point of view at least -- but without the bling he could make that car sing, while the rest of the field were left singing the blues. Sometimes a driver has to walk the precipice, put himself in the zone where no other dares to tread. All weekend Hamilton did just that.

Montreal is like Monaco on speed and Hamilton was on a high. To paraphrase the words of French writer Louis-Ferdinand Céline: 'I wouldn't have been surprised if he had tried to light a cigarette from the muzzle of the enemy's guns.' His teammate couldn't touch him in qualifying and despite his best efforts in the race, Button was spectator to a higher power.

And it was a defining moment in their rivalry. While Button has won two races because of good seat-of-the-pants strategical decisions and is lying second in the championship due to consistency and application; Hamilton, who also has two wins, has been the superior driver. And in Canada he laid that argument to rest. No matter if he's ultimately beaten by Button in the points tally, in the ledger of brilliance he will forever shine.

In fact, sometimes you get the impression that certain folk like to keep Hamilton in a particular compartment. The first mixed race driver to win a title; the youngest to do so; to have almost won it in his debut year -- as if all this was enough for him and he should sail off into the sunset and be content. But he's only just begun. In Australia when he let rip on the team radio because they called him in for an unnecessary pit stop, he proved he is no walk-over. He may have conceded to having Button as his teammate this season, but when first blood went to Jenson in the second and fourth races in Australia and China, it was time to grow up.

His agenda now is to fight for every centimeter of attention, for every grain of engineering excellence, for every postage stamp of track. He's in a good place now and with Valencia the marker for the halfway point in the season, Hamilton is poised to attack. Button, should he become despondent, can always draw on Ecclesiastes 9:11 "For the race is not always to the swift or the battle to the strong . . . but time and chance happen to them all."

And where does that leave Webber and Vettel. It seems they are tripping each other up with their outrageous talent. Webber is having his best ever season. In Canada, any chance of a third victory was stymied by having to change his gearbox before the race. Again tension between teammates is being cranked up, and crucially, who supports you within the hallowed walls of your team, can determine your world championship outcome. Both are nice guys, but that front masks a ferocious ambition. Webber -- though Red Bull have signed him for another season -- must know this year is probably his last crack at the title. Vettel, who can be sublime at the best of times, has age on his side.

And what about Alonso. He has stepped back into the arena and what a fabulous performance from the Spaniard. Ferrari have a few modifications for the next race so hopefully that means we're not heading for an exclusively Red Bull verses McLaren showdown.

Button put in another blinder. One of his biggest fans is a six year old boy called Tom Briggs. He wants to be the next Jenson Button. Tom was hoping for the best ever birthday present; a Button win. When Jenson was six, Mansell won in Canada in 1986. I'm not sure if Jenson shared Tom's dedication for F1 at the same age, like getting up during the night to watch races, but who knows what names will be on the grid in 2034, beside Michael Schumacher or course

So it's back to Europe for the next five races, kicking off with the European Grand Prix at Valencia next weekend.

2009 wasn't a good race for the Red Bull drivers who failed to finish. Barrichello won the race; it was his first victory in five years and he magnanimously dedicated it to Massa, who had just undergone brain surgery. Hamilton's pit crew weren't ready with new tyres when he made an unscheduled stop and it cost him certain victory. Raikkonen was third, followed by Kovalainen, Rosberg and Alonso.

Now who is going to be Cid? The 12th century epic Spanish poem Cantar del mio Cid is about the Castilian Hero -- Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar -- also known as El Cid (The Chief), who defeated the Almoravides, a Moroccan dynasty from North Africa, when he captured the rich Muslim kingdom of Valencia for King Alfonso VI. To borrow a line from the poem: He is master of Valencia . . . He has forced five pitched battles and in each three victory gained.

Hamilton, Button and Webber all go to Valencia with two victories apiece -- could they be Cid? Then again Cid married the daughter of the Count Diego of Oviedo and we all know Fernando Alonso was born in Oviedo. Could he be Cid? Is the clue in the poem? Probably not.

Vettel and Alonso are the only drivers in the top five that need to bring their victory tally to two. They mustn't let anyone get away from the pack and with 19 points separating the top five, a win could put either of them back on top.

Valencia: another waterfront, another contender.

David Kennedy is F1 analyst for Setanta

Sunday Independent

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