x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Critics too quick to condemn Hamilton for his aggression

Remove a wristwatch's ability to relay the correct time and it becomes a bracelet; remove Hamilton's aggressive instincts and he effectively becomes just another driver.

Lewis Hamilton's car is taken back to the pits following his retirement in Montreal.
Lewis Hamilton's car is taken back to the pits following his retirement in Montreal.

Lewis Hamilton's bulky, bling-bling Tag Heuer watch was running 10 minutes fast at the Monaco Grand Prix. He explained that rather than it being a tactic to prevent poor punctuality, it was simply down to a fault with the device's inner mechanism.

Re-setting it, he said, only solved the problem for a limited time before it would inevitably proceed to run fast again.

Hamilton, like his timepiece, has also recently proved to be excessively quick; appearing at times to be in a reckless rush to get to where he wants to go.

Two flash points in Monte Carlo saw him end the races of Felipe Massa and Pastor Maldonado as he tried to barge his way through a congested field.

At the Canadian Grand Prix a fortnight later, the 26 year old arrived promising to have learnt from his Monegasque mistakes, and yet any tweaking of his aggressive style proved to have as long-lasting an effect as the resetting of his watch.

In the seven laps he completed before being forced to retire, his optimistic overtaking manoeuvres saw him collide with first Mark Webber of Red Bull Racing and later Jenson Button, his own teammate at McLaren-Mercedes.

Webber, after recovering to finish third, adroitly described Hamilton's drive as that of a man who "thought the chequered flag was in Turn Three".

Nikki Lauda and Emerson Fittipaldi, both former world champions, were more severe, condemning the Briton's aggressive nature and Lauda called for authoritative action to curb his combative style.

The calls echoed those made by Massa, who had earlier demanded the FIA impose sanctions upon his rival. Thankfully, the sport's governing body exercised commonsense and did not bow to the calls of the critics, for as much as Tag Heuer pride themselves on precision, Hamilton prides himself on his racing ability.

Remove a wristwatch's ability to relay the correct time and it effectively becomes an overelaborate bracelet; remove Hamilton's aggressive instincts and he effectively becomes just another uninspiring driver.

And Formula One does not want another boring, cautious driver. As Hamilton said himself: "If it ever comes to a stage where I have to pull back and just cruise around, that would not excite me and I probably wouldn't stay around for that."

The most bewildering issue with all of this is that it once was not an issue at all.

Since securing his seat with McLaren in 2007, Hamilton has built his career - as well as a loyal fan base spreading from Melbourne to Montreal - on a willingness to fight on the track and never accept his place in a procession. His forcefulness is not unfamiliar. His driving style has not changed.

When he won the world championship in 2008, he did so by using the same aggressive approach that he uses today, yet three years after Lauda hailed him as "unbeatable", "outstanding" and "Senna-like", the Austrian is now branding Hamilton "completely mad" and "dangerous".

Why, all of a sudden, does his style pose problems, warrant warnings and require ramifications?

The fact is, Hamilton's problem - if it can even be called a problem in a season where he is one of only three drivers to have won a grand prix and has finished second twice already - is not his driving approach, but rather his lack of a competitive car.

While in 2008 Hamilton had the best car in the field on route to becoming the sport's youngest champion, this year his McLaren is vastly inferior to Sebastian Vettel's championship-leading Red Bull. The result is he is being forced to fight his way past more drivers on a more regular basis and take increasingly more calculated risks: it is mere mathematics that mistakes will materialise.

The fact Vettel usurped him as the sport's youngest champion when he won the 2010 title in Abu Dhabi last year, will also grate on the mind of a driver who is desperate to leave a legacy.

And so it is hardly surprising he is being rumoured with a move to a rival racing marque.

Hamilton, despite his driving being deemed dangerous and aggressive and worthy of sanctions, remains in high demand.

Stefano Domenicali, the Ferrari team principal, recently refused to rule out reuniting him with Fernando Alonso, describing him as "one of the top three best drivers at the moment", while he also met with Christian Horner, the Red Bull team principal, last weekend in Canada.

Hamilton's contract expires at the end of 2012 and a departure from the team he has been with his entire career is developing into a very real possibility.

McLaren need to provide their protege with a winning car and they need to do so without delay or they risk losing him. The clock is ticking, and ticking fast.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae