Hamilton fears backlash after arrest over road stunt
Lewis Hamilton apologised last night after being arrested by police in Australia on suspicion of committing serious driving offences.
The Formula One world champion had left the Albert Park racing circuit in Melbourne after setting the fastest time in practice for tomorrow's Australian Grand Prix when he was stopped.
It is thought that he had driven his silver Mercedes E500 sports saloon on to a part of the street circuit to perform manoeuvres known as a "burnout" and a "fishtail".
The smoking tyres of his car were spotted by police and he was pulled over.
Police said that he would be charged with improper use of a motor vehicle, while his car, lent by a local dealer, was sent to a pound in the city, where it will be kept for 48 hours.
Hamilton, who earns £15m (€16.7m) a year driving for the McLaren team, is likely to face a hefty fine and unwelcome publicity.
Melbourne police said that the 2008 world champion told them he was worried that the incident would harm his reputation, while bystanders said that Hamilton slumped down behind the wheel of his car as though trying to disappear and then attempted to conceal his face as he was being interviewed by police at the scene for about 30 minutes.
Local newspaper reports claimed that he was "visibly upset" as his car was towed away.
The driver was then left to find his way back to his hotel in central Melbourne on foot. The incident will be an embarrassment for one of the most high-profile drivers of his generation.
Performing tyre-smoking stunts is known as "hooning" in Australia and has been outlawed by police trying to prevent antisocial behaviour.
In a bizarre coincidence, Felipe Massa, Hamilton's main rival for the 2008 championship, backed an anti-hooning campaign just hours before the alleged offence.
Massa, who drives for Ferrari, spoke of the families involved in the hooning incidents and warned that ordinary roads were more dangerous than grand prix circuits.
Hamilton combined both, apparently committing his offence on Lakeside Drive, which is part of the Albert Park complex that forms the popular grand prix circuit.
"This evening, I was driving in an over-exuberant manner and, as a result, was stopped by the police," the driver said in a statement issued by his McLaren team.
"What I did was silly, and I want to apologise for it."
Melbourne is proving to be an unhappy hunting ground for Hamilton.
After this race last year, he was accused of lying to race stewards over a minor incident.
He claimed that he was told to move over to allow Jarno Trulli, of Toyota, to overtake him.
Suspicious officials reported him for the offence and he was forced to apologise. (© The Times, London)