Monday 16 December 2019

Hamilton on warpath as critics circle


Ian Chadband

Sitting in McLaren's motor home at Silverstone and surrounded by interrogators, Lewis Hamilton is getting the third degree and is beginning to sound a mite irritable.

The subject is whether he could be off to Red Bull. He evidently thinks the incessant questioning is a load of bull.

"I don't think you can rule anything out. You can never say never but I'm pretty sure that's not going to be the case," is his initial patient retort to the speculation that he wants to leave McLaren and hitch his considerable star to F1's new dominant force.

But the questions don't stop.

"All you guys are just yapping and causing the speculation. I'm focusing on winning," he responds, not with a snap so much as growing weariness. But how could he win this year against a team, Red Bull, and a driver, Sebastian Vettel, completely eclipsing him? Wasn't he tempted to write off the whole season?

He looks incredulous. "I wouldn't be the world champion I am and I wouldn't be the competitor I am if I was to write off this season." And in his hardened face, which seems to brook no argument, you glimpse the essence of Lewis Hamilton: the essence of a fighter, of a champion, of the most compelling figure in the whole barmy circus.

It is open season on Hamilton at the minute. He is being slagged off for being immature, distracted by F1's celebrity sideshows, while saying all the wrong things off the track and doing all the wrong things with reckless abandon on it.

Everyone is having a dig. Even his admirers demand him to grow up. Eddie Irvine sees a man "who's lost the plot" and Niki Lauda thinks his driving could end up killing someone. Yet the more the critics berate him, the more dismissive his "I don't give a toss" ripostes appear.

If Hamilton seems churlish at the moment, if people are badgering him to grow up, it must be because when you have had as dazzling a start to a career as he has, struggling with the also-rans is bound to make you feel like running off to more Bullish pastures. It must feel like the hardest time of his career, 89 points off the pace and in fourth place.

Vettel is younger, with more poles, more wins and soon to go ahead 2-1 in world titles. But Hamilton is adamant that his self-belief has not been dented, that more titles will come his way. "I'm only 26. I'm not old, no grey hairs yet," he protests. "I definitely wouldn't want another five years without winning it but even at 31, it's still not too old is it?"

Perhaps he needs calming, constant affirmation that, as Jenson Button says, "he is a great driver, one of the quickest over one lap that F1 has ever seen."

But the problem, judging from some wildly uneven drives and his collisions in Monaco and Montreal, is that he may carry on trying too frantically hard to prove this. "I'm not worried about Lewis because I love his driving and he is good for the sport," Jackie Stewart says.


"But I don't like the idea that he's had as many collisions as he's had. I think that's wrong. You can't blame everyone else all the time.

"I think he's over-driving; it's nothing to do with his style, but his choice of moments when to overtake.

"You can't justify it by saying, 'it's in my spirit'. There's no point in going for a gap that's not there. The really top, top racing drivers don't have many collisions. But he's still young. I'd say to him, keep cool, stay out of trouble. That doesn't stop you from being competitive."

The last we heard from Hamilton, though, was his declaration yesterday -- a rather cringeworthy one in light of Lauda's warnings -- that, "I'll take my driving style to my deathbed. You make a squeak and people overreact to it."

It does not sound as if he is ready to compromise one bit. Hamilton is at home among 120,000 petrolheads who worship him. Rain and unpredictability are in the air and the best show in F1, for better or worse but always for maximum fascination, is ready to roll. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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