Interlagos will show if Lewis Hamilton has banished the demons of 2007

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Lewis Hamilton needs no repeat of his Brazil nightmare this year
Lewis Hamilton needs no repeat of his Brazil nightmare this year

What happens to Lewis Hamilton at Interlagos in just over a week’s time will play a crucial role in shaping our understanding and opinions of a man who is rapidly becoming (or perhaps already is) F1’s most famous driver.

And whether the story ends in victory or defeat is not entirely down to him.

Last year he lost the title in the final two races through a combination of misjudgement, mistake and misfortune.

This year he’s had all three already: the misjudgement passing Vettel on the opening lap at Magny-Cours, clear mistakes at Bahrain, Magny-Cours, Montreal and Fuji, and the misfortune of two terrible stewards’ decisions at Spa and Fuji.

With a seven point lead heading into the final race it’s tempting to draw comparisons with the situation last year. But although eventual champion Kimi Raikkonen trailed him by the same amount at that stage the two scenarios aren’t the same. This time for Hamilton there is no added complication of a second rival – before the final race last year it looked like Fernando Alonso, four points behind, was his biggest threat.

If the title is decided by a mechanical failure, people will say ‘tough luck’, but many will also reflect on the points Hamilton threw away at Bahrain, Montreal, Magny-Cours and Fuji.

If Hamilton makes another mistake, it may confirm an impression of a driver who has all the speed and racecraft one could wish for, but is vulnerable to errors, and not simply when he is under the most pressure.

But if he wins it, the story will be different: the hot-headed racer who, at the 11th hour, tempered his wild ways and conquered the championship.

The other alternative – that the outcome might be determined by yet another bad call from the stewards – doesn’t bear thinking about.

Which will we see? That depends which Lewis Hamilton turns up: the one who crushed the opposition at Shanghai, or the one that fluffed the start at Fuji.

Read more about Lewis Hamilton: Lewis Hamilton biography

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31 comments on “Interlagos will show if Lewis Hamilton has banished the demons of 2007”

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  1. Wow Keith, sounds like a judgement day scenario for Lewis.

    What about for Massa? If he wins, he’ll silence most of his critics about his race craft and ability to handle pressure. He’ll be proud to outfox his overpaid world champion teammate. But at the same time, people will bring up the penalties that gifted him the 7 points. If he loses, I can imagine it won’t be so harsh on him. His supporters will say “well done, you’ve tried”. His critics will simply shrug and confirm their beliefs that Massa is “second rate”.

    So yes, there’s much more pressure on Lewis’s shoulder.

  2. As much as I still want Massa to win the championship this year (irrational, I know…) I think the professional Hamilton that blew everyone away at China. Barring a very rare McLaren failure, he will win the championship.

  3. Its sad but probably true that this is the best chance that Massa is ever going to get to win an F1 world championship. He’s got fewer seasons left, the cars are getting closer in terms of performance and we’re going to have Kimi, Massa, Lewis, Alonso, Kubica and maybe even Vettel and Heikki fighting for the top next year and I doubt Massa can hold his own against so many others.

    I really want Lewis to win, but I am going to feel sad for Massa losing as well.

  4. Two stewards’ decisions at Spa and Fuji are not terrible for everyone! Keith, it’s ONLY your opinion! At Spa, steward’s should only react imediatly, but, decision was more than correct.
    At Fuji, Hamilton should be penalized twice.
    Stewards made mistake at Monza, because, Hamilton’s drive was too dangerous and immature. Most of drivers (Webber, Glock, ALonso…) agree!
    And Keith, do you remember what happened at Montreal?! Hamilton’s silly error should be writen in F1’s history! World champions don’t do that!

  5. Dex – I thought I’d put Montreal in there, seems I hadn’t, so I’ve added it in.

    I’m entirely convinced the Spa and Fuji decisions mentioned were mistakes, see here for why:
    Hamilton and Raikkonen’s Fuji clash – the penalty they got wrong (Video)
    Hamilton penalty: FIA closes the stable door after the horse has bolted (Video)

    Of course this is my opinion, what else did you expect?

  6. Lewis’s 2008 progress hasn’t been as error-strewn as some make out. The pass on Vettel in Magny Cours was a pass in my book, not a misjudgement. The late braking in Fuji turn 1 wasn’t what did for Lewis (he seemed to rejoin in third) – it was events subsequent to that which changed the race. There aren’t many excuses for Bahrain, but I don’t think that once you’ve added it up many other drivers have made fewer mistakes this year.

    Massa didn’t exactly cover himself in glory in Australia or Malaysia. Even Mr Steady, Robert Kubica, had his moments in Australia and Silverstone. The same goes for Kimi Raikkonnen who smacked barriers in both Spa and Singapore (and of course he also smacked Adrian Sutil in Monaco). And last year, Raikkonen’s championship run was hardly error-free, after he took a wrong turn at Monaco.

    So whoever wins the championship this year, the runners up can always look back at how things could have turned out differently. If Lewis doesn’t clinch it, of course people will point to his mistakes but the same goes for Felipe, who also could have had the championship sewn up by now, despite his misfortune, if he had held things together in Australia, Malaysia and Silverstone.

    History only remembers the winner of the championship, never the excuses of the man in second place.

  7. At the end of the day Massa has more to gain. He will have beaten his world champion teammate in the same car, and ended some of the carping about his poise. Massa has been in F1 in different roles for many years, most of which time his reputation for being distractable and for bending racecars diffused his promise of great speed—resulting in that verdict of a lack of poise. He has shown his speed this year and last, but not yet shaken the story that he loses the plot when things are not fully going his way. He had thus never fully regained the mantle of Future Champion.

    Hamilton’s stock will not go down much if he loses but it will be at risk. We may count up his gaffes and bemoan his impetuousness, but his good days this year have replaced last-year’s disputable hype with a clear stamp of future champion. If he stumbles in Brazil it will be because of what we know about him—too impetuous and too aggressive. It will not be because he sleep-drives through qualifying and fades into the pack in the race.

  8. Both Massa and Hamilton seem to be quick and race well from the front. It’s when they are not on pole that the problems and potential mayhem come into play, especially at the start. Much like China, for the final race nobody will risk collisions at the start, too much on the line.

    If Lewis can be content with racing for 5th place and not self detonating then he will be a deserving champion.

    Can’t imagine the repercussions of a mechanical DNF for McLaren.

    Ferrari will Q with vapor in their tanks if necessary, to block out the front row. Be cool Lewis, that and a reliable engine will get you the prize.

  9. I think Lewis will still have many more chances of winning the WDC even if he doesn’t win it this season.

    Massa may not, Kimi is again looking better in the Ferrari, if this continues with next season’s cars & Alonso has his heart on a move to Ferrari then Massa could be the one left out.

    Lewis will still have the full backing of McLaren next season regardless & unless they replace Heikki with someone who can challenge him he’ll continue to effectively be their number one driver.

  10. I am hoping Hamilton takes the title, although I’d like a DNF for both massa and lewis at Brazil so we don’t have to hear either of them speak afterwards.

  11. I hope we’ll see something like Fuji but with Massa’s win at the end…

  12. This probably is Massa’s only title chance – he’s spent much of his career earning the ‘perennial number two’ tag and has only had a shot at the title this year because Raikkonnen suffered a run of bad form. I can’t see that happening next year, and in any case Ferrari and McLaren will probably find themselves under renewed pressure from the likes of Renault, BMW Sauber and (quite possibly) Red Bull. So Massa will probably be back to being his team’s second driver next year, albeit a more effective one than his opposite number at McLaren.

    As for Lewis Hamilton – well, it’s his title to win or lose. I agree with Keith in that there do seem to be two sides to him; ‘Good Lewis’ who blows the opposition away (ie. Silverstone, Shanghai) or ‘Bad Lewis’ who makes costly mistakes (Fuji, Montreal). Much will depend on which one turns up at Interlagos!

    Me, I reckon that after his victory in China, ‘Good Lewis’ will be there in Brazil, and that Massa may well crack under the pressure to win the title in front of his home crowd.

  13. John Spencer –

    Lewis’s 2008 progress hasn’t been as error-strewn as some make out.

    I agree with you up to a point. As we all know Hamilton has some incredibly vehement detractors. And his errors on Fuji at lap one perhaps looked worse than they were because he finished poorly – due to the dubious penalty and Massa’s equally dodgy move. And Hamilton’s rivals haven’t made many fewer mistakes than he has this year – especially Raikkonen.

    But you can’t get away from the fact that Hamilton has made a lot of mistakes for a championship contender. Back in 2006 Alonso beat Schumacher to the title because he basically went an entire season with no significant driving errors. Perhaps F1 cars today are trickier to handle than they were two years ago (without traction control, for example), but even so Hamilton has made too many mistakes.

  14. Lewis will be fine in terms of his composure. The only problems I see to him finishing 5th or above are: mechanical failure (principly engine or gearbox), tyre failure, huge bad luck with a safety car, rain and a spin off (DNFing or losing positions), or shunted off by another driver. The probability for most is low, but any could happen. I think it would be much more bearable for everyone, Lewis fans and anti-fans alike, if he wins though. Everyone can relaz a bit. Otherwise we’ll be in the same position next year. Lewis fighting for the title, more controversy, more ‘is he that good?’ etc. All this debate seems to me quite insane. Anyone who drives as Lewis has in numerous races (e.g. this year: Silverstone, Spa, Monza, Shanghai) is clearly a great driver. He’s proved everything – apart from the far over-rated ‘consistency’. Just my opinion.

  15. I’d agree that Massa has even more pressure over him. Much like Irvine in 99, he knows this is probably his only real shot at a WDC. It’s very telling that despite nearly everyone agreeing that this is Massa best season he will (if he win Interlagos) end the season with only 3 points more than he did last year (in which he was a distant fourth), this despite McLaren having only one driver actually racing. Even if Kimi blows his chances again, who’d say Hamilton will be as hit and miss, or that Renault or BMW won’t give Alonso or Kubica a better car.

  16. The late braking in Fuji turn 1 wasn’t what did for Lewis (he seemed to rejoin in third)

    It actually was. The best thing that happened to Lewis in Fuji was Massa’s mistake. The reason Lewis went from third to seventh at the point in which he overtake Massa was that he went off track almost alone once already. His tires looked really awful thanks to that late breaking, he had already went off track alone, he only did that move thanks to Massa doing a mistake and he would have to pit very soon and would end behind the Force Indias anyway. The best thing Lewis could hope at that point would be to Heikki to do his actual job and keep Massa behind while he tried to get back to at least 6th or 7th place and we know what happened to Heikki. Yes, the stupid penalty killed Lewis chances, but he was already looking at 2 or 3 points, while Massa would go to score 6 or 8 before.

  17. Filipe:

    That’s a good point, Lewis actually made 2 mistakes in the opening lap at Fuji. The second put him behind Massa, and I agree that, with hindsight, Felipe would probably have been better off by letting Lewis past as he would have to pit soon anyway. But there was no way for him to know just how badly Lewis had damaged his tyres, so he showed his teeth and got a well deserved penalty.

    And David:

    I think it’s unfair to call the Lewis debate ‘insane’. Despite believing Felipe has been the better driver this year, I’m the first to recognise Lewis is indeed something special. He brings a lot of excitement to the sport, and his relentless aggression is obviously very appealing to most people.

    It is true that F1 today rewards consistency. I agree with Keith that different rules could be adopted in order to encourage more flamboyancy from the drivers. I would love to see that done. However, the best driver of the season is, in my opinion, the driver that best understands the current rules of F1 and plays them to his advantage. That’s what Felipe has done so brilliantly this year, despite a poor start (Melbourne and Sepang) and the worst Ferrari package in many years which cost him well earned victories in Canada, Hungary and Singapore.

  18. I agree w/ dmw, Massa has nothing to lose and a lot to gain. He was not supposed to be one of the 2 drivers contending this year. He’s beaten Kimi thanks to superior qualifying performances and will end up #2, worst case. He is nowhere near Kimi, Fernando or Lewis, or Kubica for that matter, yet there he is, w/ a chance to win it all. But … he won’t win, because Lewis will.

  19. Senor Paz

    I agree Felipe Massa has qualified and raced exceptionally at times. But I wasn’t comparing them. I meant that the debate over Hamilton as a driver often strikes me as absurd. I’m not against consistency – I just think that if Lewis wins the WDC he’s been (logically) consistent enough! (Without FIA changing the race results at Spa and Fuji, he’s already have won of course.)

    But to sum up the ‘Hamilton issue’ as I see it, a scenario: it’s towards the end of the Interlagos race and Lewis (3rd) is catching Raikkonen and Massa. The lap differences suggest he should be able to pass them and win the race – if he can get past. Does he go for the win?

    This strikes me as the one scenario where the ‘racer instinct’ could overcome ‘cold reason’ (if he stays cool, the WDC is assured). But win the race and the WDC in total style? Would he resist?? I reckon not. So would he be right to go for the race win? The thing is, to be honest we have to answer this without the benefit of hindsight – i.e. without knowing that he wins, or that gets taken out by a collision with Raikkonen. My own answer: go for it Lewis…

  20. I think Lewis should be contented in finishing his race on Brazil behind the Ferrari’s. In this way, he won’t have much pressure. He does not need to race any one but achieve 5th place.

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