Hamilton goes from hero to zero with wild Silverstone accusations
Lewis Hamilton is renowned as one of the few professional drivers to wear their heart on their sleeve, but this most famous trait of his is a strength and weakness in equal measure.
Both ends of the Hamilton emotional spectrum were on display at his home British Grand Prix at the weekend.
The Silverstone Circuit, bathed in glorious British summer sunshine, was heaving with fans out to see Hamilton, the nation’s most successful Formula One driver, challenge Sebastian Vettel for control of the drivers championship. They had reason to be optimistic for a result too — Hamilton had won the previous four grands prix at Silverstone and five overall, making him the qual most successful driver at the track with Alain Prost.
Hamilton basks in the national adoration. The fans, he says, give him strength, and indeed the home crowd support — unrivalled in terms of partisanship bar perhaps the support for Ferrari at the Italian Grand Prix — seemed to will him on in what was an unexpectedly tight contest for supremacy across the weekend.
The Ferrari and Mercedes machines were finely balanced, and Ferrari had brought an upgrade in an attempt to win its first British Grand Prix since 2011. The Italian team seemed destined to deliver on its promise when Sebastian Vettel took provisional pole in the top-10 shootout.
But Hamilton dug deep and delivered what he described as the lap of his career to pip the German by 0.044 seconds at the death.
“I gave it everything I could,” he told the crowd, shaking with emotion. “I was just praying I could do it for you guys, and I’m so grateful for the support, because without you guys I wouldn’t have been able to do it.”
Genuine emotion or showmanship? Perhaps a bit of both, though it’s been hard to deny the affinity he and Silverstone crowd have had for each other over the years.
It’s a shame he couldn’t respect that relationship on Sunday afternoon.
Hamilton threw away pole position with an over-eager start, spinning his wheels and dropping places to eventual victor Vettel and teammate Valtteri Bottas.
Indeed his start was so slow that Kimi Raikkonen, who had been passed by Bottas off the line, was sizing up Hamilton into turn three, but the Finn locked his front-right tyre and smacked into the side of Hamilton’s car, sending him off the track and tumbling down the order.
Raikkonen was handed a 10-second time penalty, which was enough to ease Hamilton’s recovery to second place in a strong drive of damage limitation, but the move weighed heavily on the Briton’s mind after the race.
“Interesting tactics, I would say, from their side,” he said on the podium after skipping the usual post-race interview, and when later asked to elaborate, he obliged.
“All I’ll say is just that there are two races that Ferraris have taken out one of the Mercedes,” he said, referring also to the French Grand Prix, in which Vettel made a similar error and knocked Valtteri Bottas down the field.
“It’s a lot of points that ultimately Valtteri and I have lost in those two scenarios.
“We’ve just got to work hard to try and position ourselves better so that we are not exposed to the red cars, because who knows when that’s going to happen again.
“We’ve got to make sure that we work hard together as a team to try and lock out the front row and make sure we’re fully ahead of these guys.”
The implication was clear: Hamilton was suggesting foul play.
Accusing a team of directing its drivers to deliberately crash into rivals to unfairly manipulate results is frankly laughable and should be below a four-time world champion, and it was embarrassing to hear Hamilton allude to such an allegation, even if he only went so far as to imply it was the case.
Vettel was quick to put paid to his title rival’s imputation.
“I think it’s quite silly to think that anything that happened was deliberate,” he said. “I would struggle to be that precise to take somebody out.
“In France I lost my wing, so I screwed my race.
“I think it’s easy to attack and have a great move and also easy to have an incident.
“I don’t think there was any intention, and I find it a bit unnecessary to even go there.”
Raikkonen, who had accepted responsibility and volunteered an apology in the post-race interviews Hamilton had skipped, put it down to the risks of racing.
“Things happen sometimes,” he said. “It’s easy to say after the last couple of races that we are suddenly doing something against them, but we’ve been hit very many times ourselves. That’s how it goes unfortunately.”
Hamilton was withdrawn from his other post-race media commitments, perhaps to cool down from the emotions of the race.
Maybe when Formula One reconvenes in Germany next weekend Hamilton will put his commentary down to an excess of emotion driven by the desire to perform for his home crowd.
That emotion is of course what Formula One loves about Lewis, but as Sunday in Silverstone illustrated, it can be a critical flaw as much as a crucial strength.