Well well well, even mentioning the name seems to start the sirens rattling. Niki Lauda, countless British journalists, teeming internet forums, the clarion calls abound, Lewis Hamilton has monumentally lost it! But...I just don’t buy into this analysis, while conceding he has hit a big dip in the rollercoaster. But I think he has the talent and ability to pull himself out of the trough, and start cresting the rises again.
What informs this is my belief that we are dealing with the best potential of any driver on the grid. Potential isn’t everything of course, but if all drivers perform to their maximum, I can’t see anything better. Yes, as the experts say, Alonso is a magnificent all round driver. But who tied him in the championship (and made him look frankly silly at many points) in his first year? I think that either people have forgotten this, or enough time has not passed to put this achievement into perspective. Fort oh my goodness, it was an astonishing achievement! I think when Lewis Hamilton is retried it will form a key part of the narrative of his career, much more then it does now, when it has evaporated into the mist of 24 internet news and comment. But I think it was sensational, and to put it in its present context, if say Jules Bianchi or Jean Eric Vergene were announced right now as the second Ferrari driver, and tied on points with Alonso next year, then my goodness, my cap would be off to them, just after my jaw hit the floor! Of course, there is one very good argument why this should not be treated as gospel, that is implicit in much of the media coverage. This is the ‘flash in the pan’ theory, where we can hypothesis 2007 was a brilliant drive by a focused young man, eager to impress, and it has been all downhill since. Certainly you won’t find much argument from me to the proposition that Lewis drove better in 2007 to not win the championship than when he won it in 2008. But then....I thought he was absolutely magnificent in 2009, carrying a dog of a car round ahead of this teammate, being really competitive at the end of the year, and producing one of my favourite ever Formula One moments (when he crashed the car out of third place at Monza on he last lap, and when asked of it had been too chancy risking all for second place, started on a long explanation of how he was going to take second, and then in the last few corners would have taken the lead...born racer!). And then in 2010, again for my money he was absolutely brilliant, gunning what was for long stretches the third best car close to the championship. I thought last year he did so well to remain in contention for so long, and again was unfortunate that two incidents in a largely error free season came consecutively, at Monza and Singapore, giving more credence to the ‘Lewis is a wildman’ theorists then it should have.
Against these fine drives I will fully admit that 2011 seems a comedown, He has in the last few races been outraced (and sometimes even outqualified) by Button, and the mistakes have wracked up at a faster pace. But some of this stems I think from his instinct to attack, to want to win. We hear he is unfocused, but then from the same journalists hear that he made an exhibition of himself ‘chatting up’ Red Bull and Christian Horner in Canada, reportedly due to angst that Sebastian Vettel is storming ahead in the acheivement stakes. Not the sign of an unfocused driver to me! I admire the hunger, and even the semi paranoia, and think this will stand him in good stead, in what could be a viciously competitive next five years, with such a strong field of drivers. And I think this ‘reaching for the stars’ attitude explains many of the misdemenours this year, when the McLaren has simply been not as good as the Red Bull. Such an uncompromising pursuit of excellence led his idol Senna to three world championships after all. And I think he has ‘lost’ nothing. What sticks in my mind is the German Grand Prix. Simply put, I have severe doubts that any of the other drivers could have pulled of the coup de main of flat out driving, instinctive passing and speed on new and worn tyres that Hamilton did. And I just can’t in my mind apply that to any of the other drivers this season. For example, Button was absolutely magnificent in Japan, but I don’t think you can rule out the possibility that Alonso could have pulled off the same victory in the McLaren. And the same could be said of Hamilton and Alonso in the Red Bull. His drives in China, Australia and Spain were top levels as well. More mistakes have crept in, and he hasn’t been to the level of previous years, but his capacity to produce these high-level; performances makes me confident that when he has a more competitive car, his tendency to ‘reach for the stars’ will lead to wins, not flying into the hedge. And as for his focus and hunger, his obvious will to be back at the front confounds that.
Against this there is one cloud on the horizon. In more articles than I can remember, top journalists have referred to Lewis needing to ‘sort out issues in his personal life’ or somesuch. It is there I question whether these journalists are hinting at the problems of having a celebrity girlfriend based in the United States, or something more serious. I don’t know, but whatever way I hope it is sorted! Either way, Lewis does seem to be turning into a modern Nigel Mansell, drama at every turn, every press conference! But did it really hurt Mansell? As long as he can get winning again I can’t see this having a long term effect. Neither can the rather spurious stories of his management not turning up to races – after all Vettel manages without such figures, and for goodness sake Hamilton is 26 now, and would such a free sprit appreciate having someone there trying to control him? He is, after all, already at his ‘family’ team.
I guess I have a big soft spot for a driver who creates constant drama, can pull off incredible victories, amazing passes, and chucks the car in the hedge on the last lap pursuing victory. Things are a longer game that the 24 hour media sometimes admit, and I would be stupefied if Hamilton never wins another championship, and that man Vettel had better watch out, as McLaren and Ferrari will be closer next year, and Mercedes the year after. I don’t think he is ‘finished’, and my best guess is that after some more public moping around, he will win one of the last four races, go into the off season in good spirits, and ne a mighty contender next year. And if he doesn’t, it will still be fund finding out, because he is such a passionate, explosive, attacking ten tenths racer, with so much ‘tiger’. Good luck Lewis!