Although I am a Ferrari fan and have been accused of disliking McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton, I am posting this story in defense of his incident in the Italian Grand Prix today. Contrary to those assertions, I like Lewis Hamilton AND McLaren quite a lot and have tremendous respect for them on many levels. I also like many of the teams and drivers in F1 and that is what sets me apart from the knuckle-dragging fanatics that are incapable of seeing the beauty in F1 and across all teams and drivers.
You will recall that I argued on our podcast and stories posted that Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel deserved no penalty at the Belgium Grand Prix in regards to his incident with Jenson Button’s McLaren MP4-25. IT was an attempt at passing that failed and that’s racing. Unfortunately he damaged Button’s car and ended his race. This also damaged Vettel’s ability to surge ahead in the points to claim his first world championship.
When race Stewards (even supported by former drivers) can ascertain what constitutes avoidable contact in fractions of seconds, I start to get worried about the state of F1 racing. This is not a nanny state that needs divination to determine intent, reward or punishment. The art of racing is speed, risk, skill, victory or failure and all those elements came together at Spa in less than fortunate results. That’s racing.
The difference between Lewis Hamilton’s failure to press the brake pedal today in turn one–knowing Felipe Massa clearly had the line and corner–and Vettel’s Spa incident is that Hamilton ruined his own race and did not damage Massa’s Ferrari. The differences, for me, end there. The rest of the incident is very similar to Vettel’s in which he has been labeled as immature, Crash Kid and petulant by other teams and journalists alike. Today’s pre-race interview by Speed TV’s Will Buxton had the Englishman scouring the pits to ask drivers what they thought of Vettel and if he was immature. Lewis Hamilton chimed in and said he’s “young and is learning”.
Hamilton was magnanimous in praising Vettel’s speed and potential and I think that was the right thing to do. In hindsight, it definitely was the right thing to do as Hamilton made an equally ham-fisted move today that is not quite getting the press coverage in the UK as Vettel’s got a fortnight ago. It’s not reaping the scolding words and mocking from Ferrari team principle, Stefano Domenicali, like it did with McLaren’s Martin Whitmarsh who called Vettel “Crash Kid” (although we haven’t heard from the Horse Whisperer yet).
Hamilton had a mission today that saw him make a very ill-advised move on Massa in turn one and lose. He easily could have ended Massa’s race as well but didn’t. Hamilton said (via AUTOSPORT):
“It was clearly a mistake by myself, one of those things that happens when you’re racing and you’re pushing hard,” Hamilton told television crews when he returned to the pits.
“I was trying to position the car in a certain way and I was too close to Massa and he clipped my wheel and damaged the car. Nothing I could do.”
“It’s not over, but it’s days like this, and mistakes like I made today, that lose you world championships,” said Hamilton. “I only have myself to blame.”
Here’s the thing folks, Hamilton made a move and it didn’t work. I would say, using Spa stewarding criteria, that it was avoidable contact. Where is the penalty? There should be no penalty. If he took Massa out, I still say no penalty. It’s racing. Hamilton had the same desperation that Vettel had at Spa.
Hamilton elected for the set-up without the F-Duct and rued the decision prior to the race. He suggested that teammate Jenson Button had the right set-up. He is an aggressive driver, something I like very much about him, and he needed to make up serious places on the start to have any hope of either winning the grand prix or passing Red Bull’s Mark Webber who represents his biggest threat for the title. He needed to get a jump on everyone because tire wear was going to be a big factor with his aggressive style and race strategy on a low down force set-up as the car was sliding around a lot during qualifying.
We discussed what had to happen for Lewis here and the recurring theme was that he needed to get Webber behind him. Webber was starting the race directly in front of Hamilton and the drag race was on as soon as the lights went out. Hamilton, usually a very good starter, was taking advantage of Webber who has had difficulty starting of late.
Hamilton had to try and nip as many cars at the start as possible and as he is a champion, he is going for the win all the time. He wanted desperately to get around Massa and it just didn’t work. He kept his foot in it and made the mistake. That, as I have said, is racing and most British fans have agreed that this, indeed, is racing. It’s too bad I was called names for suggesting that Vettel was “just racing” at Spa but then nationalism has it’s ugly face to contend with doesn’t it?
Lewis Hamilton may have damaged his title hopes but I respect him for trying to get as much as humanly possible out of the start in one of the last circuits that lends itself to the MP4-25 chassis. I love that about Lewis. I loved it about Vettel too. I am impressed with Hamilton’s admitting the set-up error and he knew he was the only one who could pull the MP4-25 out of the less-than-savory starting position and try to capitalize on the Monza circuit before leaving Europe for Red Bull’s play ground.
Was Hamilton’s accident avoidable? Damn right it was! Was it penalty worthy? Hell no! He is, after all, racing and so too was Vettel at Spa and Turkey. So too was Ruben Barrichello at Spa and myriad other drivers who crash into other drivers. Schumacher on hill or JV? Well, now that’s another story but so is Senna on Prost or Mansell on Senna. Those are avoidable contact situations that deserve penalties.
I absolve Hamilton of blame, although he was the donkey of the race, because he had to try and the determination in him as a champion pressed him to win. BUT…you have to realize that Vettel is trying too and for our British friends, you may want to pick the fly poop out of the pepper on this but you can’t have it both ways. Vettel cannot be Satan spawn for trying to pass Button while Hamilton was just trying hard today and made a mistake…clouting Massa who clearly and unreservedly had the line. Pick a lane Brits!
Yes, it didn’t work but he had to try. He made a bad error, just like Vettel, and it could cost him the title but if I’ve learned anything about Lewis Hamilton and McLaren, it’s this: Never count them out…ever!