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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19 comments on The Ben Evans Column: F1 and tennis

  1. I think the reason why frustration is beginning to seep into the younger set in a big way is not the racing, but the stuff round it. As a general rule, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Alonso et al are in F1 because they are good at and like driving, not because they like and are good at marketing, media interviewing and psuedopolitics. In the last few years, I think the penny’s dropped as to how orientated F1 is towards activities they may or may not be genuinely interested in (but in the case of marketing and the media have to pretend to be interested). Also, the extent to which F1 selects on the basis of marketing has decreased in the last few years as the pay driver era has drawn to a close. There’s only so long someone can pretend to like an activity they’d rather not be doing, and keeping up the pretence can be really wearing.

    I don’t know if this is the explanation for tennis, or even if it’s a contributing factor.

  2. Sri said on 29th June 2008, 19:58

    @Alianora

    An interesting point you make, especially in the light of the comment made by Raikkonen as soon as he traded Macca for Ferrari:
    “I’ve never been happier!”

    Not to flame me yet Macca fans, i’m only trying to point out, that most drivers just want to take fast cars really fast around the famous/infamous bends/circuits. This whole asking them to do stuff, for promotion, is neither everybody’s cup of tea, nor is to their liking. Kimi’s statement has to be seen in the light of the fact, that Ferrari leave him the hell alone with minimal promotional duties and not have him told to do this/that.

    Tennis: Well, i would rather hear it from the horse’s mouth.

  3. Alianora, nobody makes public appearance appear to be boring like stoic Kimi, who expresses all his emotions in the same dry tone of voice. I expect his reply of “I have never been happier” was said without the slightest hint of smile or inflection in his voice.

    You’re right though, the real heroes of F1 don’t get microphones placed in front of them when their cars place first, second, or third, and that’s actually the biggest difference in the tennis analogy. In motor racing, the performance is not 100% on the driver, although we never get to see the footage of engineers taking the motors apart, do we?

  4. S Hughes said on 30th June 2008, 9:54

    Rob R, you wonder what Lewis and Mandela would have to talk about, well please see this link: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/main.jhtml?xml=/sport/2008/06/30/smgars130.xml

    It appears that Mr Mandela is an F1 fan, who requested a personal lunch with Lewis Hamilton. From the article and picture it seems they got on like a house on fire. Being both black, they have both experienced racism (and still experience it in Lewis’ case), and Senna was a particular favourite of Mandela’s because he spoke out against apartheid. That’s probably another reason why Lewis holds him in such esteem. I hope you are now clear that they probably had HEAPS to talk about.

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