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Hamilton buries the hatchet…and the throttle
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Hamilton buries the hatchet…and the throttle
Posted By:   |  14 Jun 2009   |  7:53 pm GMT  |  25 comments

I was lucky enough to be at Silverstone last Wednesday, to spend the day with McLaren, driving the 650 bhp Mercedes SLR and being driven in it by the reigning world champion.

This was part of the Lewis Hamilton British media rehabilitation exercise, particularly targetted at the Fleet Street guys after things got a bit out of control post the Melbourne-lying-to-stewards business.

Hamilton got pretty wound up by some of the coverage and initially tried a route of non co-operation, but then recently the team has changed tack and this day at Silverstone was a way of hitting the reset button. He spent most of the day there and was very affable, even to some journos he’d been monosyllabic with a month ago.

It’s all a giant game, with the press, and you just have to accept that and learn how to play it. Nigel Mansell was the same and Damon Hill too. The advantage they had was that they were far more mature than Hamilton at the time they had to deal with it and also they had both had a life before becoming famous. Hamilton has had a lot to come to terms with this year; an uncompetitive car as well as question marks against his integrity, so troubles with the press are perhaps the easiest to fix of his problems.

Damon Hill was there too on Wednesday and made the astute observation that for a British driver at the British Grand Prix, “It is difficult not being competitive at Silverstone.”

Hamilton wowed the journos with his sublime car control on a miserably wet day. I went first because they did it alphabetically and so it was a voyage of discovery as much for the driver as it was for the passenger on the shiny wet track. I can honestly say that the car was rarely pointing straight, apart from on the Hangar Straight. The rest of the time it was fishtailing around, as we hit the standing water at tremendous speed.

PGOS_LH_Onboard_029

Afterwards we were offered a cup of tea and a scone (yes, really) in the BRDC clubhouse and Lewis gave us his views on what it will be like racing at his home Grand Prix with no chance of winning.

What is your target for the British Grand Prix?
“Points are the goal for us, you have to adjust from last year where we were targeting the win. Now it’s a struggle to get into the points and you can see how close it is. To score a couple of points would be good, I haven’t scored for a couple of races now.”

Last year the fans were cheering you on to the win, this year it will be Jenson Button. How do you feel about that?
“I’m already egging him on. Maybe I should put some money on him! It will be a proud moment to have a fellow Brit win, but then I will understand exactly what he is feeling. I’ll know what he’s going through — the feeling he’s getting from the fans and fulfilling his lifelong dream of winning at Silverstone. Is this more special than winning Monaco? Yes. Winning Monaco was very special for me with the way it all went it was such a fulfilling race, then you have other wins which are not as exciting.”

It’s been a while since your last win. How has life changed?
“I didn’t expect to change. Everyone said to me, ‘When you win things either get harder or easier.’ What I wanted was to go into my third year and go with the same approach and double up and be better than I was last year, with less mistakes and fight for the championship. I arrived and I couldn’t do that, then a wave of different things happened, but I would definitely say that I’m enjoying myself now as much as I ever have.”

How tough is it to accept not being competitive?
“I think I’ve always known how to deal with it all but it’s about knowing how to accept it. I won’t accept that the car is not quick enough, keep pushing, keep pushing, but then you have to accept that this is probably around the place you are gong to finish, But you keep pushing and keep your mind in a certain readiness for the potential to win. It makes you stronger, it’s not all about running at the front. ”

Isn’t it hard to lose as a champion?
“Not really, because I’d be sitting here and you’d be saying, ‘Could you have done it?’ Could you still do it I’ve proved I can do it. In 2007 I nearly won the world championship. It was only because my car stopped in the last race on the second lap that I didn’t have the chance to score the points I needed. Last year I got in and finished the job, despite all the trouble we had with points being taken away and penalties here and there. It was a disaster full of dramas all year, But to have it and know I have a world championship in the bag is a good stepping stone, a good foundation for me to build upon.

So you’ll be wanting it to rain, to give you a chance?
“No. I won’t be able to turn my tyres on in the wet, so it might be worse for me in the wet.”

It looks like no more GP at Silverstone, but it could be no more GP in Britain, what do you think about that?
“F1 would never be the same without a British GP. Personally I think it’s out of the question. I don’t know how they can even think about it.

“Last year was incredible for me, I don’t know how we won by a minute and eights seconds but it was a very special day. This one coming up I’m just going to make sure I enjoy it and embrace the fans that I have here, because they were so supportive last year. I could see them every time I came past they were cheering and waving the flags. It was soaking wet, raining non stop.

Where do you stand on the old tracks/new tracks debate?
“You don’t feel the same excitement as you do on the old circuits. Silverstone has such a great heritage and the way that the track is laid out is unique, it has such a high speed combination of corners. When you drive here you are flat out all over the place, you don’t brake until turn seven at Stowe, then you come back here into the last complex and there is always a chance to lose it and go off into the gravel. It’s a technically demanding circuit.”

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25 Comments
  1. Snail says:

    Excellent photo James. Lewis looks relaxed and calm and you look anything but. Kudos for having the self confidence to show yourself like that.

  2. AK says:

    Anyone got any captions?

    “Oh my goodness me!”

  3. Howard Hughes says:

    “It’s all a giant game, with the press, and you just have to accept that and learn how to play it.”

    See, this is why it’s wrong to have a free press. Seriously – there has to be a fine line between actual censorship, which no one wants, and an unruly press corps who can make or break reputations on the whim of editors.

    Why *should* Hamilton have to spend a day driving people round a track to curry favour? Why?! He does his job – whether he succeeds or not should be immaterial; this notion that he has bridges to rebuild, or relationships to strengthen highlights all that’s wrong with the news industry. FACTS are what matter, not negative editorial spin foisted on a dumb public who lap up what they’re spoonfed.

    I mean, James’ editorials are the cream of the crop – fact-based stuff with a nicely balanced, astute insight into what’s behind the public gestures and utterances. But when we get into the realms of the tabloids the whole thing sinks to the level of some sick subversion of the truth in order to fit whatever agenda may currently sell more copies. Hamilton’s new on the scene? Great – we’ll big him up, he’s the great Brit hope! Not doing so well this year? Got himself into a pickle with the stewards? Better still, we’ll smear him now, that’ll make a few juicy headlines!

    It’s disgusting… but sadly we have no political party brave enough to grasp the nettle and start to curb these excesses, cos they’re all too terrified of attracting the full vitriol of the industry.

  4. Spike says:

    Lewis has lost motivation. His heart clearly isnt in the racing anymore. Maybe he will drive at Le Mans next year if F1 breaks apart.

  5. Marco says:

    I’m extremely impressed that you could find the composure to make a phone call in these circumstances!

  6. Nick Robertson says:

    Sounds like a good day :) Good idea for McLaren to get back onto the journos’ good side, they need all the good publicity they can get at the moment, especially with the FOTA/FIA war going on. If they can get public opinion on their side, any possible breakaway series has a much greater chance of success.

  7. Kenny says:

    That’s the first time I have ever seen or heard the word “mature” used to describe Nigel Mansell.

  8. Oscar says:

    What impresses me is that you can write the article on the iphone while Lewis is driving you round! He must be a very smooth driver! ;)

  9. Colin S says:

    I can’t believe you’re trying to twitter with Hamilton at the wheel…

  10. robatclaxby says:

    Lewis is a fighter, He’ll be back, not much doubt about that!

  11. Hi James, I love my iPhone too. I really do but even I wouldn’t be playing with it while getting the ride of my life in a merc with Lewis Hamilton!

    Must have been a fantastic experience!

    Chris.

  12. Mary says:

    You luck boy James.

    Good to see Lewis relaxed and having Fun. Hopefully with Ron no longer in the picture we’ll get to see more of the Real Lewis and less of the Corporate Lewis.

    There is no doubt that Lewis has given us some of the best racing for the last 2 seasons and it is a shame he is not able to race at the sharp end this year and I for one can’t wait till next year when hopefully Mclaren will be back in front.

  13. pete says:

    hamilton should post on twitter to get some dialogue going with fans!

  14. Dragos says:

    Hi James,
    Where you trying to measure G Force with that device which looks like an iphone ?

  15. Alastair says:

    James you look TERRIFIED.

  16. martin_tf says:

    Kudos on the iPhone James.

    Must have been a fun day.

  17. Sam98 says:

    Your point about Damon & Nigel having lives before (and in parallel) to Formula 1 is spot on. I’ll never forget an interview with Damon Hill in his heyday when he was asked about the excitement of winning; he pointed out something along the lines of it’s difficult to get too carried away when you come home with a trophy and a three year old climbs all over you with crayons wanting to draw you a picture.

    At the time it struck me that this was a key difference between Hill and Schumacher, (both in good and bad ways) and I think Michael became a better man and driver after having a family of his own – giving him another aspect of life outside Formula 1. It seems similar to me with Lewis now. It does no one any good to spend a year surrounded by people who will only ever tell you how good you are. The lad is growing up in front of our eyes and although it’s an undoubtedly charmed life, there are moments of fire too. We’d all have screwed up somewhere at his age!

  18. Peter says:

    I wonder whether any journalists felt sick afterwards. That’d be hilarious!

  19. Vik says:

    Whether he’s at the front of the pack challenging the accepted driver hierarchy, or smacking into the back of a Ferrari in the pits, this man brings pure, unadulterated entertainment to F1. No coincidence that his arrival on the scene coincided with the two best years of racing I can remember. Like him or not, we should give him props for that. Such a shame that McLaren stuffed it by giving him a donkey this season. Watching him go toe to toe with Button would have been *mental*.

  20. Ham says:

    Has anyone asked Lewis whats it like being one of the “monkeys at the back” (to quote the world champion) this year ?

  21. Steve Mc says:

    I’m not sure I agree with you on this one, Spike – I think that if there’s one thing that Lewis’s heart is in this year, it’s the racing.

    I’ve got to say, I’m becoming more and more impressed with Lewis these last few weeks – it’s as if he’s finally beginning to grow in to his skin and is comfortable with it. I was a fairly vociferous critic of his approach during 2007/08 (shall we say ‘robust’ track manners which, at times, were bordering on fairly dangerous (Timo Glock, Curve Grande, 2008, anyone?) combined with, every so often, slightly more arrogance off track than was palatable), but I like the way he is coming across right now.

    I think the input of Matt Bishop in the McLaren PR department is beginning to bear fruit, and they have finally realised that, underneath the wooden McCorporate Patter that Lewis has to trot out most of the time, he is actually a very personable and engaging young man. Some recent evidence of this are the reports from the press guys (F1 and Fleet Street) that he scared sill…I mean, drove around Silverstone, his piece with Jake Humphreys in the gym at the MTC and his appearance on Radio 1 this week.

    I’m a die-hard Button fan, but I really wish Lewis all the best for the rest of the season and beyond. As a bit of an aside, it would be great to see two really nice British Chaps giving Silverstone the perfect send-off – plus some meaningful competition for the Brawn might give Jenson’s Championship push the credibility it deserves!

  22. The Jackal says:

    “sadly we have no political party brave enough to grasp the nettle and start to curb these excesses”

    To “Howard Hughes” :

    Did you ever read the book “1984″ ?

    What you seem to be wishing for smacks of exactly that state of affairs.

    Censorship is for people who are too lazy or too stupid to make up their OWN minds. Apparently
    you either are, or wish to be, one of those people.

    Some of you Brits really seem to love your nanny state. How the once mighty have fallen …

  23. rpaco says:

    Jackal
    We are well on the way to 1984, we have more surveillance of ourselves by cctv than anywhere in the world. Common sense was abolished during the previous prime minister’s period of office, and has been replaced by literally thousands of new laws, most of which were dumped on us by people we did not elect.
    No we do not like our nanny state, a lot of us would emigrate given the chance, it drives us mad to be persecuted for petty things while major crimes go unpunished.
    F1 is one of the few things we can still enjoy that “health and safety” fanatics have not banned as being too dangerous. And we do not want it diluted and spoilt by cost capping it.

    The gutter press however should be made to justify any claims they make, at the moment they get away with far too much.
    Ironically I suppose we have to thank Max for prosecuting in his own case.

    I can only assume that you were not on slick tyres for your lap with Lewis, I recommend that you try the difference in the same car; you will need a full harness for that.

  24. Mary says:

    Ham,

    The fact that you keep quoting this silly immature comment Hamilton made in his 4th race in his first year in F1 Shows how much you are strugling to find a stick to beat him with so get over it.

    I am sure all the driver have said or done stupid things early in their F1 Career and thats all this comment was so move on.

    Whether or not you choose to admit it, the fact is that the last 2 seasons have been the most exciting in recent years and the common denominator there is Hamilton.

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