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.