The French Grand Prix went about as badly as it possibly could for Lewis Hamilton – and he has nobody to blame but himself for it.
From the moment he got back behind the wheel of the McLaren at Magny-Cours it looked as though he was still working out the frustration from his humiliating crash at Montreal. And the outcome was inevitable.
When he needed to limit damage, he threw caution to the wind, ruined his race within a couple of corners, and came away with nothing.
The expectation before the race was that Hamilton would use an aggressive strategy and fuel lightly to try to make up the disadvantage of losing ten places on the grid.
This included reducing his rear wing angle below the optimum to get the best straight line speed possible to have a chance of overtaking into the Adelaide hairpin.
But although he usually revels in a car with a touch of oversteer he seemed to have taken it way too far. He struggled at the right-hander at Estoril in practice. Then in Q3 he spoiled both his laps with oversteering moment at the fast Nurburgring chicane.
That same corner was the scene of his error during the race. He lined up Sebastian Vettel neatly to pass around the outside but went into the corner carrying far too much speed and cut across the tarmac apron inside the kerb.
There have been occasions where drivers have passed each other while cutting the track and not been penalised. But Hamilton was never going to get away with this one. The onboard camera was a total giveaway – he was heading way too fast into the corner.
Later Hamilton said there had been no conversation with the team about the move. Obviously they made a mistake in not telling him. Arguably he was in a place to judge for himself that he had done something wrong, although often a driver will leave such things up to his team as they have the benefit of being able to see more than they can.
Hamilton’s explanation is a little confusing (emphasis added):
I went into the corner. I believe I was ahead on the outside and I couldn’t turn in on the guy otherwise we would have crashed so I took the outside line, lost the back on the marbles and went over the kerb. I continued because I don’t believe I overtook him by going over the kerb, I actually took him before that.
This sounds like a contradiction to me – if he had completed the overtaking move then he could have turned into the corner without fear of colliding with Vettel. He hadn’t completed the overtaking move, so he had to go wide and cut the corner.
Nor did he only use the kerb – he was completely over it and on the tarmac apron.
State of mind
An element of paranoia crept into Hamilton’s language afterwards:
I kept pushing. There’s nothing you can do that can distract me. You can keep on giving me penalties and whatever you want to do and I’ll keep battling and try and come back with a result.
What I want to know is, who is he addressing? When he says ‘you’ is he talking to the media? Or – much more dangerously – the stewards? Asked about his feelings towards the media Hamilton answered:
I feel cool. It’s all good. Racing is racing. I’m still here, there’s nothing you can do to get me out of it.
Again, who is he talking to? And where is this idea that someone wants him out of racing coming from?
I can’t vouch for the odd things Hamilton is saying, but as after Montreal these don’t sound like the words of someone who realises he’s made a mistake and is going to learn from them (as Doctorvee pointed out recently).
And with the pressure cooker environment of his home race coming up next, I’m starting to wonder if Hamilton is mentally tough enough to cope with the weight of expectation and a dire need to end his two-race point-less streak.
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