Is Hamilton becoming the anti-Senna?

Shortly after the Canadian Grand Prix finished, Bill asked me in the comments what I thought about the latest tangle that Lewis Hamiton has found himself in.

It was another bad race for Hamilton. Two more clumsy clashes were added on top of the controversial incidents in Monaco that are still fresh in the memory.

It is starting to look like a bad habit.

Montreal incidents weren’t so bad

But the thing is, I don’t think either of the incidents in Montreal were nearly as bad as what he got up to in Monaco.

Yes, the move up the inside of Mark Webber at the start was too optimistic. But in the dry it probably would have worked. If you look at Hamilton’s onboard camera shot, Hamilton looks like he is going to make it, but then understeers through a puddle.

It would be right to argue that Hamilton should have taken the conditions into account. So in that respect, it was a dodgy move on Hamilton’s part. But at least he didn’t just steam straight into Webber in stable conditions, as he did to Felipe Massa and Pastor Maldonado in Monaco.

As for the crash with Jenson Button, I think this was an unfortunate racing incident. Hamilton got such better drive than Button, that it is perfectly understandable that he had a go. Plus, the racing line along the pit straight at Montreal effectively goes from the extreme right to the extreme left, back to the right again.

No matter which way Hamilton went, he would have found himself getting squeezed eventually. It was just a bad deal that Button couldn’t see him in his mirrors due to a mixture of bad conditions and confusion. Again, Hamilton should have taken the conditions into account. But, again, at least it wasn’t as malicious as what went on in Monaco.

Why does Hamilton get himself in so much trouble?

It does strike me, though, that Hamilton is taking on far too many of these marginal overtaking attempts. Hamilton has always been a little bit like this, though he had seemed to calm down a bit. His excitable inexperience is no longer an excuse — this is his fifth F1 season. He has more than enough grands prix under his belt to know what’s what.

But what is making him go for all these half gaps? One theory is that he just has to push harder this year to beat Red Bull, and is becoming desperate as a result. Undoubtedly that is part of the problem. But Hamilton had a much worse start to the season in 2009 and he wasn’t quite as clumsy as this then.

Senna’s influence

All the hype surrounding Ayrton Senna, following the release of the successful eponymous film, has brought one Senna quote to the fore:

If you no longer go for a gap that exists, you are no longer a racing driver.

Senna was known for his high-risk, sometimes dangerous moves. The key to Senna, though, was that he was often able to intimidate drivers into moving out of his way. Michael Schumacher also had this trait.

It is well known that Hamilton idolises Senna. When Hamilton goes for a half opportunity, you can imagine him repeating the Senna quote to himself in his head.

It’s more than just “going for a gap”

But overtaking is about so much more than simply driving round another car by going faster. You need to assess the situation; analyse what the opposing driver has at stake, work out what he is thinking and how much he will yield. It is effectively a 200mph game of chicken.

Senna and Schumacher managed to balance the scales of this game of chicken massively in their favour by building up a fearsome reputation. They were the hard-chargers who would impose themselves on their opponents through a mixture of speed and aggression. Perversely, this possibly made it easier for them to overtake.

Hamilton, on the other hand, is very quickly building himself the opposite reputation. He is becoming clumsy Lewis — probably about to cause another crash that will be all his fault.

Even in a situation where Hamilton may have the upper hand on track, he may begin to find overtaking more difficult. Hamilton’s reputation is such that even in a racing incident, he could well find himself being blamed for every clash he is involved in. This, in turn, could make his opponents more open to defending more aggressively.

Could it be that in his attempts to become this generation’s Senna, Lewis Hamilton has actually achieved the reverse?


  1. The trouble is that a whole generation have been brought up looking at Senna and Schumacher. In Schumacher’s day they only looked at Senna and sought to emulate him. Now they also seek countermeasures against such behaviour. Senna’s tactics wouldn’t work now, just as Schumacher’s mostly don’t, because particularly in the last 4 years, the default attitude of the racers that are coming is to defend as heavily as possible, even if that means letting the people ahead escape.

  2. “Hamilton’s reputation is such that even in a racing incident, he could well find himself being blamed for every clash he is involved in.”

    Interesting theory. It’s arguably already happened to Marco Simoncelli in MotoGP this year.