Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 30 September 2020

Lewis Hamilton had more than good luck at the British Grand Prix - it was the performance of a genius

British driver showed his quality and brilliant racing brain when he survived last-lap puncture

Lewis Hamilton's epic victory in last Sunday’s British Grand Prix may yet have one more twist.

Ever since he limped over the finish line on three wheels to notch up a victory for the ages, argument has raged over whether we had witnessed genius at work or just plain old-fashioned good luck.

Only those sports fans who have been on Mars will need reminding of the enthralling finish last Sunday.

Just as the millions watching on television were registering Valtteri Bottas’ front-left tyre exploding, Hamilton’s went the same way.

The cameras instantly swivelled to the world champion who had been on such a comfortable cruise to victory the director had rarely bothered to include him in the coverage.

The win was almost a given, it seemed, unless something happened. And then it did. His front left exploded too and the car collapsed onto its belly.

What separated him from the chequered flag was four km of his favourite tarmac. A comfortable 30 second lead instantly transformed into a desperate struggle against the odds.

Max Verstappen, now second, got the news and went into ‘hunt’ mode.

Would he catch Hamilton? Would he even need to? Surely the wounded Mercedes wouldn’t last?

Mercedes data later gave substance to what all our eyes saw: Three-wheeled Hamilton hit speeds of close to 140mph on the back straight, sparks flying.

Copse Corner was taken at 130mph. Three to go.

There were swift intakes of breath around the world as he gingerly braked for the final complex and, smoke pouring off the dead wheel, it initially refused to turn.

But Hamilton bent the car to his will and did just enough to persuade it to change direction. A microscopic fraction too much and it would all be over, beached within sight of glory.

The sides of the tyre were entirely gone. Miraculously the main belt stayed on even though it was connected by little more than the odd thread.

Cleverly Hamilton had switched the brake balance to the rear to save the car from dipping at the front with each touch of the pedal.

In his ear, engineer Bono was counting down the gap. “25 seconds to Verstappen”. Four corners from home it was “10 seconds to Verstappen ” and through the final complex it was “nine seconds ... seven … mate you’ve done it.”

‘He was lucky boy,” said Red Bull boss Christian Horner afterwards. But was he really?

Lewis Hamilton inspects his battered tyre after winning the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. Reuters
Lewis Hamilton inspects his battered tyre after winning the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. Reuters

The real genius had gone unseen. Hamilton had raced, harder and faster than anyone – especially his teammate – and still made his equipment last longer. That’s not luck.

I worked closely with Ayrton Senna and remember him skittering off into the gravel trap during a desperate dual in the 80s.

He cleverly prevented it bogging down and hit the tarmac again before, to my surprise, hitting the brakes, accelerated for 50 yards then hit the brakes, accelerated and braked again.

Despite the desire to continue the pursuit he realised his radiator intakes were filled with stones and unless they were cleared his engine could be wrecked in laps to come. Genius.

Honda and its engineers idolised Ayrton. They said he had remarkable feel for a car.

He could take the speeding concoction of cranks, shafts, pistons, nuts and bolts to the edge of destruction, the very limit of their endurance and still get the car home fastest.

They marvelled that the internals would literally fall apart as they opened it up for post- race scrutiny.

He could hear and feel changes in the car even the telemetry did not pick up and only revealed themselves on closer factory inspection.

For me, Hamilton does not compare to Senna but he clearly has the same incredible gift few possess.

So, was Hamilton just plain lucky on that day? Is it luck that has steered him to 87 wins, a record 3519 points, six world championships (and counting) ?

Was he any luckier on that lap, the 14,480th in F1, than when he went around the outside of the rest on the very first corner of his F1 career in Melbourne 13 years ago ?

Perhaps he could quote Thomas Jefferson, (via Samuel Goldwyn and Gary Player): “The harder I work the luckier I get.”

And, of course, fans will wait with baited breath because all the cars are on faster, softer tyres that won’t last as long in Sunday’s race, and weather forecast to be far hotter.

Updated: August 6, 2020 07:49 AM

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