The Ben Evans Column: F1 and tennis

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren-Mercedes, Magny-Cours, 2008, 470150

If there was any doubt before France that Lewis Hamilton?s F1 honeymoon was over there certainly isn?t now.

In a weekend where the McLaren team was subject to some extremely harsh penalties (why was Heikki Kovalainen penalised but not Kimi Raikkonen during qualifying?) Hamilton?s race was effectively over midway through the first lap.

Yes, a disaster, but in the scheme of a season worse things could and do happen. After all, in Canada had Hamilton hit Kubica Raikkonen would have another 20 points. And in France ?ǣ Raikkonen lost two more thanks to a cracked exhaust.

What could have been a twenty point deficit to the Ferrari in reality was only an 8 point loss. Yes I know Felipe Massa is leading the championship, but Raikkonen is still the class act.

Post-event Hamilton was giving some very downbeat and vaguely accusatory (??you??, ??they??) interviews that could have come from his former team-mates? lips nine months earlier.

A bit of accusation, paranoia and misery is nothing new in our top flight racing drivers ?ǣ Juan-Pablo Montoya, Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna, have all had their moments. But the transformation in Hamilton?s demeanour has been startling.

Not a month ago at the Monaco Grand Prix here was a young man in love with motorsport, who had boundless enthusiasm for racing, yet throughout the French Grand Prix weekend he seemed lost and disillusioned.

This I think is a great shame. Hamilton is one of F1 brightest talents of the past ten years, and amongst the new generation of drivers openly enjoys his driving more than most. Yet this year, he appears to be increasingly frustrated with the workings of F1 and the demands of being an F1 driver.

Worryingly Lewis is not the first of the current generation of top drivers be frustrated by F1 ?ǣ Fernando Alonso was monumentally fed-up for most of last year and Kimi Raikkonen is already discussing early-retirement. Perhaps life at the top end of F1 is not all its cracked up to be?

I wonder if F1 over the next few years could go the way of tennis. By that I mean that the top talent comes to the peak of the sport at an ever younger age, burning brightly for a handful of seasons, before reaching a point of disillusionment or frustration with the sport and announcing retirement at a very early age.

Tennis this year has been rocked by the shock retirement of Justine Henin-Hardenne at the age of 24. How long before a top F1 driver quits at 24 or 25 after three or four years in the top flight?

From what I have seen in the paddocks over the past few years, there is a generation of drivers coming through the ranks who have never known anything beside motorsport. All they have ever done, and can remember doing is racing. Without a life outside racing it is very hard to put everything in perspective and this in conjunction with an adolescent mindset is a potent combination. It is therefore easy to see how some young drivers can become hugely pessimistic following a bad run of results.

Yes, Lewis Hamilton is not having a great season. Indeed this is probably his most trying since his debut year of Formula Three in 2004.

But that is all it is ?ǣ a patchy season. Of course the media are going to exaggerate and analyse his every mistake. Big deal. Ahead of Silverstone, the McLaren team should be telling Lewis to chill out (Michael Schumacher always had unwinding post-race down to a fine art).

Heck if I were Ron Dennis, on Sunday night I would have dispatched Lewis to the company of an Xbox 360, a DVD player and a six-pack of beer and told him to forget about the weekend. After all there is always the next race, and the one after and the one after that.

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