Red Bull

Love him or hate him, Lewis Hamilton is one of the greats

Red Bull Racing’s act of self-destruction in today’s Formula 1 Turkish Grand Prix, when both their drivers managed to take each other out of contention from a winning position, allowed Lewis Hamilton, perhaps motor racing’s most acquired taste, through for his first victory of the year.

Having been a follower of the McLaren team since i started watching motor racing back in the days of Niki Lauda, I’m a big fan of Lewis Hamilton. I appreciate that many others don’t necessarily share my enthusiasm. Hamilton can be petulent, hot-headed and arrogant, he appears to be unloved by his peers and strangely feels that a dodgy ear-piercing is a quantum leap up the fashion ladder. (I’m saying nothing about Pussycat Dolls.)

But, and here’s the point, he is arguably the most outrageously talented driver currently in Formula 1. I grew up on a diet of British sportsmen who were nice guys but had the ‘Heroic Failure’ market sewn up (think Jeremy Bates, Gary Lineker and so on). Sure we had Nigel Mansell and Damon Hill, but you always had the impression that their successes (fleeting as they were) were almost entirely dependent on the fact that they happened to be driving the best cars in the sport at the time.

Hamilton offers something a little bit different. Like all the great F1 drivers, he can wring something extra out of a car that otherwise wouldn’t compete. Last year’s McLaren was universally recognised as a dog of a car, among the worst the team had ever produced, and this was demonstrated by Heikki Kovalainen’s noticeably poor season as Hamilton’s team-mate. Hamilton on the other hand consistently scored points with the car, ending the season as the clear form driver in the sport.

He is exciting to watch, a driver who doesn’t see overtaking as one of the great sins of the sport, and someone who can seriously consider himself a contender for the Drivers’ Championship at the start of each season. (Contrast that with the perfectly charming David Coulthard who always seemed to be going through the motions when he talked up his own title pretensions.)

Hamilton may not win the Drivers’ crown this year. The Red Bull team and their drivers, Sebastien Vettel and Mark Webber look to have the best car this season, and Hamilton’s team-mate, Jenson Button, has taken to McLaren better than anyone imagined. But all of that is just the sort of challenge that brings the best out of Lewis Hamilton. On the track he always seems to be at his most potent when he’s chasing a lost cause and so it may prove with this year’s championship contest.

There are a number of supremely talented drivers in Formula 1 (don’t believe the cynics – it’s anything but boring) and it’s always a pleasure to see them at their best. But nothing makes me smile more than seeing Lewis Hamilton look down on his critics from the top step of the podium.

Advertisements

F1’s sparkling return to form

Fans of Formula One will have heaved a huge sigh of relief at the sport’s return to form at this morning’s Australian Grand Prix. After the crushing tedium of the season opener in Bahrain, Melbourne delivered an altogether different slice of entertainment.

F1 isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, of course. Most will complain that it is too processional, that it’s all about the car, and that you will see more overtaking in Moto GP, Nascar, Indy Racing etc, etc, etc. All of that is quite often true, but Formula One is not supposed to be like other forms of motor racing. F1 is a technical formula, more so than any other type of racing, and a large part of the challenge is to find a technological solution in order to win races. There is less passing than in many of the alternatives, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. Overtaking in F1 is hard, that’s what makes a successful pass more exciting, more of an achievement. Mika Hakkinen’s relentless pursuit of Michael Schumacher at Spa in 2000 was far more exciting for me than watching the lead change hands half a dozen times each lap in other forms of racing.

For the F1 fan, the Australian Grand Prix was (mercifully) a wonderful advertisement for the sport. There was plenty of overtaking, the teams faced the technical challenge of adapting to uncertain conditions and the drivers had to use all their skill to deal with a slippery track. There were also scrapes, spins and the odd tantrum over the radio link.

Jenson Button put in a majestic drive to win the race comfortably in his McLaren. I’ve previously speculated that Button might struggle in the shadow of his team-mate, Lewis Hamilton, but there were no signs of that in Melbourne. Admittedly Hamilton’s race was hampered by a poor strategy call from McLaren and a driving error from Red Bull’s Mark Webber, but his mini-rant over the radio to his engineer betrayed signs that perhaps he was more than slightly fazed by the performance and strategy of his cool-as-a-cucumber team-mate. It will be very interesting to see how he responds over the coming races.

Sebastien Vettel’s early-season run of poor luck continues, but I still believe he is a really special talent with a wonderful future in Formula One. Michael Schumacher and the Mercedes team still look short of sharpness but it would be foolish to write off a pairing (with Ross Brawn) who delivered seven Driver’s titles in their heyday.

And (I’ll show my bias here) it was lovely to see Ferrari not having everything their own way today. Formula One has much going for it but it only ever works as a competitive spectacle when the teams are closely matched. Many feared the worst after Bahrain, with everything pointing to a season of Ferrari dominance, but Australia has demonstrated that there are three teams (McLaren, Red Bull and Ferrari) who look very competitive with Mercedes and Renault not that far behind. More of the same please, Formula One.