When is a mistake not a mistake? When your name’s Lewis Hamilton

Once again I have found myself becoming more annoyed with Lewis Hamilton because of his interviews following a controversial on-track incident. The first time this happened was during the Brazilian Grand Prix — ironically following another incident with Kimi Räikkönen.

This time round in Canada, Lewis Hamilton pulled off the distinctly un-Senna-esque feat of crashing himself out in the pitlane after failing to observe a red light. Even though I’m not a fan of Lewis Hamilton, and am a vocal critic of the mad unjustified hype that surrounds him, I didn’t feel too much schadenfreude.

The thing is, the British media’s plan of convincing us all the Hamilton is one of the best drivers there has ever been — an equal to Senna — is blatantly beginning to backfire now. And when it comes to the British press, that can mean only one thing: the backlash. And that’s not pretty to see, and it would be a real shame for Hamilton to suffer this.

The thing is that he is a genuinely talented driver, but the British media built him up so much that he couldn’t realistically achieve what the public would inevitably expect from him. So just because he is a very good driver rather than a great driver, he is going to face some horrific treatment from the media soon.

Indeed, the post-Canada backlash was pretty bad, as summarised by Axis of Oversteer. The Daily Star even went as far as to suggest that an ‘L’ plate should be affixed to Hamilton’s McLaren in future.

Others — still trying to push the ‘Hamilton is the new Senna’ myth — looked to blame the team, particularly on ITV. Nothing is ever Hamilton’s fault, it seems. If he presses the wrong button on the steering wheel, it’s McLaren’s fault for having the button there in the first place. If he crashes into someone it’s the cars fault for losing its bridge wing. And now that he failed to observe a red light, it’s the team’s fault for not telling him about the red light.

The thing about McLaren is that, partly because of the team’s culture and partly because it is also in their interest to present Hamilton as the greatest driver alive, McLaren will happily absorb all of the blame in these situations. So it’s a win-win — the media gets to blame McLaren and McLaren happily take the blame to support their driver.

But should McLaren be warning their drivers about things like red lights? I remember a few years back the F1 world dissolved into fits of laughter when it was revealed on the FOM world feed one race that Takuma Sato was being told over the radio when to move left or right. That, of course, is meant to be the driver’s judgement call.

So what is it to be? Should the driver’s hand be held throughout the race by a committee of “spotters”? Isn’t the driver paid to make these judgements for himself? This isn’t mickey mouse IndyCar or Nascar — this is Formula 1, which is supposed to contain the 20 best drivers in the world.

The fact is that Lewis Hamilton shouldn’t have needed any kind of notification or signal from his team that there was a red light at the end of the pitlane. There was already a very clear signal: the actual red light. He should have seen this. It is his job to see it. He failed. Game over.

The thing is, Hamilton made a silly mistake. Or at least, it sounds like a silly mistake. He failed to observe a red light. The right light is a classic obstacle; one that millions of road drivers every day manage to navigate with ease. As such, Hamilton’s incident is perfect for tabloid ridicule.

But the red light problem is relatively uncommon in Formula 1. Even though the presence of the red light during Safety Car periods has been around for yonks, for various reasons drivers in the past normally encountered this light as green and it was rarely an issue.

However, the red light is a particular problem at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve because the pitlane is so short compared with the actual race circuit that runs along next to it. The pitlane is basically a continuation of the long straight whereas the start / finish straight has a chicane at one end of it and a tricky ‘S’ bend at the other. Juan Pablo Montoya was disqualified a few years ago in Canada for running the red light. Fisichella and Massa were disqualified last year. The problem has become more common at other circuits now partly due to the new Safety Car rules.

Anyway, Hamilton fell foul of a rule that he should have known about. But it is still a relatively uncommon incident, so perhaps it is not much of a surprise that checking for the red light slipped his mind. After all, Nico Rosberg slammed straight into the back of Hamilton having also failed to spot the red light. I saw Hamilton’s incident as a silly but understandable mistake.

However, Lewis Hamilton’s post-race interviews made sure that any sympathy I had for him drained away pretty quickly. Here he exhibited all of the characteristics that rub me up the wrong way about Lewis Hamilton.

First of all there is the refusal to accept he made a mistake. You can tell he knows he was in the wrong. Even as he got out of the car his body language said it all. He looked simultaneously embarrassed and angry. But he just can’t bring himself to actually say it. This week’s Chequered Flag podcast has an interview that demonstrates his evasion of responsibility (it’s 13 minutes in if you want to look for it):

Lewis Hamilton: You can’t even call it a racing incident really, can you? I mean, what is it?
Holly Samos: Just one of those mistakes?
LH: I don’t… I don’t call it one of those either. I don’t know what I’d call it.

I would definitely agree with him that it was not a racing incident. A racing incident is what happens when two people are racing for position and it’s a 50/50 situation and both end up colliding and it’s no-one’s fault in particular. This certainly wasn’t the case here. Kimi Räikkönen was just minding his own business and the whole incident can be put down to Hamilton’s brainfade.

So it must have been a mistake, right? Not according to Lewis Hamilton. He can’t even bring himself to use the word ‘mistake’ in his response, calling it instead “one of those”. But the fact that he doesn’t know what to call it other than a mistake says it all. Listening to him duck responsibility like this is as painful and embarrassing as listening to a politician evade a pressing question.

The interview also encapsulates Hamilton’s rather misplaced confidence. You might call it cocky or even out-and-out arrogance. In his interview with ITV he asserted that he was “breezing it” during the race. In the BBC interview he said, “We were the best this weekend. No-one could touch us this weekend.” But you certainly aren’t the best — you definitely aren’t untouchable — if you are prone to a silly brainfade moment like that.

Moreover, it’s not clear that Hamilton would automatically have won the Canadian Grand Prix without the pitlane incident. He looked good in qualifying, but we don’t really know how much fuel Kimi Räikkönen had. Filling up at that stage of the race, almost certainly both cars would have needed to stop again, in which case Räikkönen probably had the advantage because he had got out in front of Hamilton. And, having fuelled lighter, Kimi may have been able to pull out a decent lead.

McLaren really needed to win in Canada. The circuit is known to suit the McLaren in particular. Coming off the back of Monaco — another McLaren-friendly circuit — meant that these were two vital races for McLaren and they really needed to maximise their points haul to make much of this year’s championships.

As it was, Ferrari looked surprisingly good in Monaco and Hamilton needed a dash of luck to take victory there. Meanwhile, Kovalainen could only manage one point in Monaco. In Canada, McLaren came away with a big fat zilch. Make no mistake — this is a major blow to McLaren’s chances. The next few circuits suit Ferrari better and this could be the red team’s opportunity to pull out a serious lead.

Canada was probably McLaren’s best chance to grab 18 points in a weekend but instead BMW took the 1-2. And now McLaren lie 3rd in the Championship. They can’t have been planning for that. Furthermore, the fact that the McLaren underneath Kovalainen did not perform in Canada must be ringing alarm bells in Woking. Far from “breezing it”, I think McLaren will now be bricking it.

19 comments

  1. Having recently watched Richard Hammond trying to drive an F1 car on Top Gear, I have even more respect for all F1 drivers than I did before, and I can see how easy it could be for mistakes like this to happen. But it was a mistake, and Lewis should accept that.

  2. Maybe Lewis is starting to beleive his own press?

    In a way I was almost glad Lewis was out of the race, at least it spared me forty laps of listening to James Allen’s BS about ‘Sennaesque’ etc

    Gggrrr

  3. Great post Dr. Vee.
    First of all, let me tell you that you are my favourite example of unbiased F1 fan when I talk to other Spanish F1 fans.
    I don’t think that this accident deserves so much analysis. McLaren did confirm that they warned Hamilton and the situation was not as unexpected as some people want us to think. It was the result of having such a hype of a pilot. A pilot that has skipped all the logical stages of learning, going too fast to the top. Look at Kubica, for instance, he is so different, calm, fast and with the feet on the ground.
    And the backlash issue… I think we made a prediction at the beginning of the season. Check those posts. We talked about how cruel the British press can be, and we are beginning to witness.
    The problem is that Hamilton stays in denial. He promised 15 straight podiums that he can’t deliver and still he keeps talking nonsense. The problem is that I fear that he believes what he says.
    Nevertheless, let me tell you that the Spanish press did not say anything cruel nor offensive about the incident. They were too busy with Nadal and the National Football Team.
    Cheers!

  4. It’s utterly transparent and if he thinks he’s fooling anyone he’s quite mistaken.

    But I remember a certain driver who parked his car on the exit of Rascasse at Monaco two years ago to stop anyone setting a faster qualifying time and then refused to come clean about what he’d done even when he was caught and punished. That’s rather worse, I feel.

  5. Reminds me of Coulthard’s gaffe in his last race for Williams when he didn’t quite stop in time to avoid crashing into the barrier in the pit entry.David was similarly evasive – claimed it was the “idle strategy” on the engine that drove him forwards into the wall at 20 mph.

    I completely agree with Jackie Stewart (see the ITV web site) – Hamilton has driven less races than Robert Kubica .These kind of errors show he’s still a bit raw and has an awful lot to learn despite his great talent.I agree Ponzonha that he’ll have problems if he believes his own hype – shouldn’t McLaren be doing more to protect him?

  6. Couple more things that sprung to mind .

    I get the impression Lewis is not being very well advised/managed at all – remember the pathetic Troy PR stunt before Turkey? Lewis probably doesn’t want to come across as arrogant but the way he says things comes across as quite arrogant.He really needs a proper management team now that he’s such a high profile driver – his dad Anthony is utterly out of his depth at this level.

    He’s just said he thinks the penalty is harsh because he didn’t intend to ruin Kimi’s race.Intentional or not he deprived Kimi of a good points score because of his recklessness/inattentiveness .It’s fair that he should have to fight the Red Bulls , Toyotas and Williams cars for the small points with the field spread as it is at Magny-Cours.

  7. Keith, I totally agree with you. I have said from time to time that, if anything, Hamilton is the new Schumacher rather than the new Senna. Schumacher and Hamilton both have a tendency to do controversial things during races then evade responsibility. Of course, Senna wasn’t totally clean on the racetrack. But at least he usually held his hands up and confessed to it.

  8. Yep, I am with Ponzonha here: Dr Vee is always the most objective person I know when talking about F1 drivers and British press. I normally read a few other blogs, but the sort of analyses he does can’t be found elsewhere: very mature and rational.

    Despite being an Alonso fan, I can’t help by appreciating other drivers when they do fine; I do also appreciate when Fernando makes mistakes and try not to hide them. He has made two errors in a raw that cost him lots of good points, but yet I think he HAD to try to overtake at Monaco and Canada; I guess if the car is not good enough is a lot easier to make errors, but he acknowledges his mistakes immediately. Hamilton does not and even denies them as you perceptively point out. This is not doing any good to him, and probably as you stated may mean big problems with the British press in the future. But it it is too soon to know: we will find out though.

    Despite everything, this is being a fascinating championship: in Canada I was having such a tachycardia I couldn’t believe it. I do not want Fernando to be conservative, and, although it is frustrating at the end of the day, I am enjoying F1 racing more than ever. In my opinion Fernando could have won had Renault not made to pit after SC, and thus that is the way to go.

  9. Escellent post, it’s what most clear-thinking F1 fans have been thinking since the weekend!

    He has a habit of doing something which could upset some people, only to make it worse by trying to wriggle out of it later and ending up upsetting even more people!

  10. I’m starting to think that McLaren owes him a decent preparation. He seems still a rookie, an incredible good one, but a rookie after all. Give him a Force India for a year or two and he’ll return to win the WDC for sure.

    In defense of Hamilton, I must say he is spicing up the season as nobody with his highs and lows.

  11. Samuel, the problem is that Hamilton and his circumstance would refuse an “invitation” to drive a Force India. He will be in a great team until he wins a championship or his star fades…

  12. I think all the stars aligned for Hamilton during his first season in a way that doesn’t happen often. He was placed in a top team, with a great car, plus every advantage in terms of preparation. Make no mistake, he also had the talent to do the job, but was sheltered from a lot of the downsides of being a GP driver. This season he is beginning to show his inexperience and feel the frustration of when things actually go wrong.

    I completely agree that the media are making him out to be more than he may actually be. Steve Rider and James Allen of ITV very often make me want to vomit, due to the serious brown-nosing and hero worship that they undertake at every Grand Prix weekend. I understand that it is always nice to a have your countryman fighting it out at the sharp end, but retain some perspective, please! The British press still seem to worship the ground he walks on, but inevitably the backlash will begin and Lewis will not know what hit him.

    Hamilton’s arrogance and cheesy charm (should I say smarm?)can be very grating. His avoidance of accepting blame for the incident in Montreal, won’t make him any friends whatsoever (just a good kicking round the back of the pits afterwards). The Senna comparisons are also completely unjustified at this stage in his career.

    If it was not for the team he currently drives for, he would be lumped in the ‘promising young driver’ category with Sutil and Rosberg, nothing more. As an Englishman, I hope he matures, has good career and I wish him well, but I’m not going to built a cathedral for him just yet.

  13. yup – nice post mate. I have to admit I didn;t catch any of the post race interviews, but you’ve done a good job of condensing them for us. I must say that the ITV interview is most telling! I’m a fan of lewis and feel that more often than not he gives fairly good press – yes he tows the corporate line, but at least he’s articulate and he does a fair job of actually giving us some half decent info, unlike most of the other drivers who give us nothing except empty platitudes and corporate schpiel.

    But the fact that he couldn;t even bring himself to use the word “mistake” is frankly unbelievable!!!! The only thing that I can think of in his favour is that in order to keep his mental attitude positive he had to put himself in a frame of mind whereby he couldn;t really admit to just what a daft mistake he’d made – otherwise all his self-confidence would crumble.

    but that feels like it’s a pushing the realms of reality a bit. You’d still think the guy has to be able to realise that he’d just made a really dumb mistake and admit to that, try to work out how it happened, and then learn from it and move on.

    You are right, that it’s beginning to look more and more like he’s ot very good at admitting when he’s got it wrong – although, he is rather good at looking human and showing humility when he gets it right!

    It seems a little bit like Anthony Hamilton thinking he can do as good a job of managing him as a professional sports agent. I agree that I wouldn’t want to lose control either – but for him not to realise that there are other people put there with more experience, knowledge and contacts that would be useful to his son is ridiculous

  14. Thank you for your post. I was losing my faith to F1 fans. I liked Hmailton in the beginning of last season but it started go down soon and now its on the ground. ” I am sorry IF I ruined Kimi’s race” IF??? That was my bottom line. He reall need some new PR person and he needs stop listen ITV commentator and British press fro his own good. And then fans of Hamilton…sigh.. I think best was this ” Kimi should have penalty because he was in wrong place end of the pitlane. He should be behind Kubica not side by side with him” By what rule?
    I think that there is a lot of Hamiltns fan who never have been intresting about F1 until Hamilton started drive.At least it sounds like that. People are making comments as a fact without have any idea what rules says.
    I am very very glad for Kubica. He did great job. Now Hamilton dont need race only against Kimi. There is Kubica and Massa as well. It will be very intresting end of season. I only hope that somebody can keep ITV commentators quiet and Hamilton as well 🙂