x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Narrow margins of success perfectly illustrated by Lewis Hamilton

The Briton's victory in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix owed much to a rival's misfortune, as did his winning the 2008 Formula One drivers' title.

I once spent a Sunday evening in Stevenage, but please try to contain your envy - envy being so unbecoming and all.

This happened on November 2, 2008, when a one-time Stevenage tyke from the adorably titled Peartree School had grown up to clinch the Formula One drivers' title in Sao Paulo in Brazil.

Lewis Hamilton stood 23 years, nine months and 26 days old by then and, as I rummaged through the sleepy contours of the bedroom community 46 kilometres north of London, I never imagined he would be anyone in need of alleged redemption by the age 26 years, 10 months and six days.

In fact, I imagined little in the silence of Stevenage, for while I had not expected Rio de Janeiro, I had envisioned some merriment yet encountered only skateboarders, seasoned adults making beelines for the bingo hall and a sport pub so empty the race commentary seemed to echo off the walls.

After Hamilton's narrow clinching on the usual Brobdingnagian-screened television in the cavernous pub, I did hear a man at a lonely bus stop tell of the race-long pounding of his "haht," which translated as "heart". And a reader did email to cite an omission in my report, informing me gently that Stevenagers had hung on every corner of the Interlagos intrigue, but from their living rooms.

I apologised in reply, and we agreed on the remarkableness of the Hamilton story, awaiting its ceaseless crests up ahead.

The idea that this Abu Dhabi win wrung partly from somebody else's tyre puncture three years and 11 days on could leave Hamilton "ecstatic" and make him use the word "fantastic" tells us ... well, it teaches us at least three lessons.

The first would be the crazy precariousness of all this, seen in the frequent reference to Hamilton as "the 2008 champion" and "the youngest-ever champion until 2010". This shows us how rapidly labels just slap on and stick and then go around hiding the complicated truths.

Pinpoint accuracy, after all, would require that people refer to Hamilton as "the 2008 champion after Timo Glock stayed on dry-weather tyres and slipped from fourth to sixth in the oncoming rain of the final lap in Sao Paulo, enabling Hamilton to claim fifth to pip Felipe Massa by 98-97 in the points standings". As well, nobody tends to call Hamilton "the youngest-ever champion until 2010 because Glock stayed on dry-weather tyres so a Brazilian rain could leave him vulnerable at the corners for passes both from the rookie Sebastian Vettel and, more poignantly, Hamilton, in the last seconds of the 18-race season".

People just don't have time for such protracted constructions, whether in TV reports, written articles or casual conversation, and so over time and a million snappy references, only the stattos remember Glock.

Hamilton's title, his alleged first of many, was both deeply impressive and frighteningly narrow, even within Formula One's minuscule margins.

Second, when confronted with a talent such as Hamilton, we often forget the snake pits in which all of elite athletes operate, the insecure bastions full of gifted up-and-comers always ready to wreak a good deposing. That happened with Hamilton, with Vettel already doubling his titles so soon that soundless Stevenage seems still fresh in the brain.

Tiger Woods perhaps skewed this for all with his outrageous dominance, so it's instructive to remember August 1999 and the PGA Championship outside Chicago, when the Woods narrative seemed stale next to the peppy teenager Sergio Garcia skipping across the fairway to follow his ludicrous tree-challenged shot. The ensuing decade revealed not only Garcia's knack for acquiring untrustworthy putters but also Woods's insatiability for smack-down in a reign that reflected mostly - and favourably - on Woods.

Third, the envy and adulation people often direct at the famous, including the squealing around Yas Marina Circuit's gorgeous paddock, again seems misguided.

Three years and 11 days after breathless Brazil, Hamilton said this on Sunday: "I definitely think this weekend I've been clearer in my head and I've had less weighing on me, less thoughts and issues of whatever problems that I've got.

"I was just able to drive clearly. I think my qualifying always has generally been good and my practices have always been pretty good, but obviously in the last race I had that mistake which was … I was just not thinking straight and this weekend I was able to think straight."

That sounded like a muddled old regular human being, maybe even from Stevenage, for whom talent and money and fame hardly bring clarity, something we always hear in lip-service bromides but always forget in the day-to-day.




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