Last year was not a glowing ember on the CV of Lewis Hamilton. In fact, I’d argue it was his worst year in Formula One and the statistics bear that notion out. He was suffering from personal issues, the press said, and perhaps struggling with the car and tires and a host of other things that can impact a person’s performance. Having a teammate like Jenson Button do well and finish second in the championship in 2011 doesn’t help matters.
Hamilton took a pasting in the press and even yours truly suggested that McLaren were paying a driver a lot of money in return for a mediocre performance while he secretly tried his hand at recording a CD as he slipped further and further into the insidious world of Hollywood. Hamilton fans were true to their man but equally concerned over his pace and personal issues that were clearly impacting their hero’s performance.
The year 2012 was to be a new beginning and I’m happy to say that it most clearly has been and then some. This is the Lewis of old. He’s got his head straight, his priorities set and his mojo working again. So much so that the common criticism of Lewis’s inability to manage tires has not only changed but surpassed one of the sport’s greatest at such a skill; his teammate Jenson Button.
Lewis has put in outstanding performances thus far in 2012 and last weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix may have been the best qualifying lap I have seen Hamilton produce. He’s driving like a champion again and his team certainly see that as well with McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh saying:
“Lewis was extraordinary,” said Whitmarsh. “After a fantastic qualifying effort, and the undoubted frustration and shock at what happened after that, I am so proud of him.”
They should be proud of Lewis. Weekend’s like this are difficult for any driver to accept and Hamilton has been known to throw the team to the wolves in moments like these. The team had not placed the proper amount of fuel in his car for the qualifying session on Saturday and while Lewis secured pole position, he stopped on track on his in-lap due to a lack of fuel. This cost him pole and placed him on the back of the grid for the start of the race.
Last year it may be safe to say that Lewis let his team down and the team grumbled but hung in there with him. You didn’t find public criticism of Lewis from the team in the press and that’s a testament to McLaren’s professionalism after all these years in F1. Equally, you’ve seen a rather placid Hamilton in his comments this year regarding his team who seem to be inventing ways to let Lewis down on his comeback year.
This weekend’s debacle was met with a calm hope and positivity that Lewis, quite honestly, just didn’t have last year. He was upbeat in the face of adversity and he’s only eight points out of the championship hunt due to the wonky nature of this year’s Formula 1 series results. McLaren even admit they are dropping the ball this year as Whitmarsh said:
“Clearly there are some negatives and disappointments that we take away from this weekend,” Whitmarsh said. “To have to race from the back of the grid is tough, really, really tough – so we have to learn, we have to improve and we have to be better.
“But equally there are some positives. The car is quick, Lewis has demonstrated levels of maturity, resolve, and control, to add to the speed and talent that we knew he had.
“We leave here eight points off the drivers’ championship [lead], and 11 off in the constructors’. In two weeks’ time, hopefully we will be leading both. It is that sort of a championship.”
I picked Hamilton for the win in Spain and while I couldn’t be happier to see Williams F1 back on the top of the podium with Pastor Maldonado, I secretly think this was Lewis’s race had he not had the penalty…and even with the penalty, he was the drive of the race for me. No offense to Maldonado who deserved every accolade and to Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso for an astonishing performance as well as Lotus F1’s Kimi Raikkonen, but Lewis Hamilton came to win this weekend, unfortunately McLaren didn’t.
If anyone knows me at F1B, I’m not a Lewis Hamitlon sycophant for fanboy. I like the guy a lot and have the utmost respect for him but like Jenson Button in 2011, I admire and praise hard work and performance when it happens and to whom it happens for. This year, Lewis deserves more from McLaren. He’s turned his game around and got his head issues behind him and has found the skill needed to drive these persnickety tires (even Button struggles with them), he is showing up to win and McLaren need to do the same.