Tuesday 20 February 2018

F1: Hamilton swerves criticism of drivers

Tom Cary in shanghai

FOR the second Friday in under a month, Lewis Hamilton's allegedly reckless driving was the subject of feverish debate last night .

You could not exactly call this crime 'hooning', the charge with which the McLaren driver was hit by police for wheel-skidding like a boy racer on a public road in Melbourne three weeks ago.

In fact, many people were of the opinion that Hamilton had committed no crime at all -- beyond that of actually racing. But those that counted, his fellow drivers out here in China, were pretty much unanimous in agreeing that he had acted improperly when he weaved down the home straight in Malaysia a fortnight ago.

Last night was the first time the Grand Prix Drivers' Association had met since Hamilton escaped with a black-and-white warning flag in Sepang after weaving three times from side to side across the track in front of Renault's Russian novice Vitaly Petrov. And by the end of a tense session they had recommended to the FIA's technical director Charlie Whiting that they wanted to see future miscreants given a drive-through penalty.

It was clear in the build-up that the 2008 world champion, whose on-track ruthlessness has not always endeared him to his fellow professionals, was going to cop a certain amount of criticism.

"It was Formula Ford stuff," said Williams' veteran driver Rubens Barrichello, adding that if it had been him instead of Petrov he would have given Hamilton "a bollocking".

Hamilton, though, is nothing if not practised in fending off criticism. He once described walking into a similar briefing here in China three years ago and being confronted with an atmosphere so hostile from his fellow drivers that he said afterwards they were waiting "with rifles, ready to shoot me".


His argument was clear. The rules say that "manoeuvres liable to hinder other drivers, such as more than one change of direction to defend a position, are strictly prohibited". It all boils down to semantics. Hamilton argued that he was not 'defending' his position, in other words reacting to a passing move by Petrov, but initiating the weave in an attempt to break the Russian's 'tow' -- the aerodynamic advantage of being in someone's slipstream.

"I have spoken to a couple of drivers about this and my personal feeling is that if you are defending into a corner and you weave more than once, that is illegal but I am not aware that trying to break the tow was illegal," he said.

"I wasn't cutting him up. He was a good car's length behind me and I was trying to get him out of the tow. I don't feel it was dangerous."

Despite his ticking off, Hamilton, sporting a new-look goatee, looked pretty relaxed too. And why not? He had just set the fastest time of the day in afternoon practice, with his team-mate Jenson Button quickest in a morning session overshadowed by a major crash by Toro Rosso's Sebastien Buemi.

Both admitted that Red Bull probably still have the edge going into the race but, such is the straight-line speed advantage conferred by McLaren's innovative 'F-duct' system, they feel they've a chance to be competitive, provided they can qualify within striking distance of Christian Horner's drivers.

Red Bull's team principal admitted he was concerned by McLaren's pace. "We call it the 'F-ing duct' at Red Bull," he joked. "And don't forget they are 30-40 horsepower up (with the Mercedes engine compared to Red Bull's Renault).

"We don't want a McLaren on our gearbox going into the long straight on lap one, that is for sure. They will be competitive. I think Ferrari will be competitive. And you can't rule out Mercedes."

Ferrari's Fernando Alonso reiterated that he had no concerns about engine reliability, despite another failure yesterday morning that saw flames lick the back of his machine. The Spaniard has already lost two of the eight power units allowed for the season, with his remaining six engines now needing to last for another 15 Grands Prix after this weekend.

"My worry is zero," said Alonso, who stressed that the engine that blew yesterday was the same one used in practice back in Bahrain. "We are still working as planned and the Friday engines will have to do a few more kilometres from here to the end of the year, but always within the limits we reached during winter testing.

"If we break more engines then we'll start thinking, but right now there are no worries." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Chinese Grand Prix,

Live, tomorrow, BBC1, 7am

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