Take it away Clive…
Lewis Hamilton is not the most popular driver with hard core F1 enthusiasts. This is probably the result of the adoration and hype exhibited by the British tabloid press in his name; we all dislike such ignorant and one-sided nonsense and that carries over into our assessment of Hamilton himself.
But, as enthusiasts, we ought to be dispassionate and recognize that it is not Hamilton’s fault that this has happened. He cannot help being British and an extremely talented young driver in his first season in F1. Surely we should ignore the fuss made by journalists who have no understanding of the sport and make our assessment of Lewis based purely upon his abilities and character.
I think we have all been surprised at how good Hamilton is as a driver. Until his rookie error that led to the gravel trap in Shanghai, he has hardly put a foot wrong. He had some luck in Germany, it is true, but plenty of other drivers were caught out by the downpour – it was a lottery as to who slid off the road and those who did not should be thankful that fate decided to give them a free pass for once.
The other two contenders have made many more mistakes and, as experienced and respected campaigners, have less excuse. Raikkonen’s contact with the barriers in Monaco qualifying was merely the most obvious of his unforced errors; let us not forget those numerous occasions in which the new tarmac run-off areas have been the only reason he did not have to pay for mistakes.
Alonso too has hardly been error-free. Remember how amazed we were at the number of times he messed up in Canada, a champion we had thought almost perfect suddenly spending more time off the track than Sakon Yamamoto? There have been times when Alonso’s desperation at being beaten by his team mate was very obvious.
On quality of driving, I think we have to say that Hamilton deserves to be champion. So do the other two but not quite as much. It is when we come to character that things become more difficult.
I need not spend much time on Alonso’s public utterances this season. He has revealed himself to be a man who cannot stand to lose and who becomes quite irrational when he does. As far as I’m concerned, that alone means he does not deserve to be champion. Raikkonen, however, is an entirely different kettle of fish (and his character has been likened to a wet fish at times). I cannot fault his preference for stoic silence through all controversy and it is only his tendency to over-drive that prevents me from preferring him to Hamilton for champion.
Lewis has occasionally shoved his foot in his mouth quite firmly this season, it’s true. At times he seems to have a talent for saying things in a way that irritates us. But that has been fairly rare – generally he is quite good at the bland, corporate line that we expect from F1 drivers. And his few misjudged statements do reveal the character beneath the polished, well-trained public persona.
He’s a young kid living his dream. We assign all sorts of devious motives to him but, in essence, I think he is genuinely an open, honest and likeable guy. He is ambitious but all racers have to be; sometimes he appears arrogant but, again, that is not exactly an uncommon trait in F1 drivers. And it must be admitted that very few young men of his age could have experienced the hype surrounding him and not been too affected. This guy will turn out okay, mark my words.
So I think Hamilton shades it in the “deserving stakes”. And, let’s face it, the statisticians are going to be very happy if he does win the championship this year. First ever rookie world champ; oh, they’ll love it!
Clive Allen writes for F1 Insight
Photo: Daimler Chrysler