It was interesting last night after the Indian Grand Prix to hear McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh suggest that part of the reason for Lewis Hamilton being off form and rather niggly with many people he encounters in F1 at the moment is because he isn’t enjoying being beaten by his team mate, Jenson Button.
“Lewis will be feeling under pressure because of the great performances from Jenson at the moment, ” said Whitmarsh.
“Lewis, the great, exciting driver that he is, will not like being beaten by Jenson. I don’t want him to enjoy being beaten by his team-mate. I want him to try to beat Jenson, just as I want Jenson to try to beat Lewis.”
Seasoned human behaviour watchers within F1 will find these comments interesting. Whitmarsh didn’t need to say them, but there comes a point – and perhaps we are there now with Button 38 points clear of Hamilton with a maximum 50 available – when the question of Button’s effect on Hamilton becomes unavoidable.
Button has beaten Hamilton in four of the last six races where both have finished. Many people, including myself, thought Button was making a mistake when he went to McLaren in the winter of 2009, as Hamilton seemed clearly the faster of the two.
He still is, but this season, it’s not made any difference. Button has done a tremendous job; not always that fast in qualifying, but always able to make the most of the McLaren package in race conditions and his three wins and seven podiums from 13 races he has finished speak of a consistency at a high level.
That Hamilton is having a tough year for all sorts of reasons, mainly personal, is undisputed. But the notion that Button is considered inside McLaren to be beating him – rather than picking up better results because Hamilton has been involved in collisions, which have knocked him back – is interesting. And even more interesting is the idea that this is getting to the younger man.
In qualifying Hamilton leads 12-6 (although in India he then had a three place penalty) and has the team’s only pole of the year.
It was not hard to conclude from this weekend that Hamilton can’t wait for this season to end, just as Vettel and Button don’t want it ever to end. Such is sport.
Button went through a tough couple of years in his mid 20s where things weren’t going right for him and the hassles of life as an F1 driver outweighed the pleasures.
After an adolescence spent dedicated to racing karts, Hamilton is doing his growing up in public. We’ve seen it before many times with young sportsmen.
We’ve all been through the disruptive girlfriend phase, we’ve all made mistakes. He is doing through it in the public gaze and without his father by his side as a steadying influence.
Anthony Hamilton pushed his son very hard in the first years in F1 because that’s the way they’d always worked and it had got them to that point. Wanting to be free of that to take his own path, Lewis went his own way and now has no steadying influence to turn to.
Interestingly, Anthony gave an interview to Indian media outlet First Post Sports at the weekend in which he said,
“Sometimes people like to cause you a little bit of grief but at the end of the day we all have problems in our lives. For example, I have been married twice and I have had some really bad days, when I am working but I had issues on my mind. It is the same with Lewis and any other F1 driver in the paddock.”
Also the superiority of the Red Bull/Vettel package has to be bringing him down. Vettel notched up 27 pole positions and 21 wins at the weekend. In the 27 races between Hamilton’s last pole (Korea) and the previous one (Canada 2010) Vettel had pole 19 times.
How to break that cycle? When was the last time McLaren had a dominant car? What are the chances of them having one next season?
This, as much as any notion of Button “beating” him, must be preying on Hamilton’s mind as he contemplates a long break from anything to do with F1 this winter.
* One final note: my take on the collision yesterday between Hamilton and Massa was that, as Massa said, he braked later than Hamilton on the grippy racing line, which is why you see him surge ahead half a car length just before he turns in. He told us yesterday evening he knew that Hamilton was inside before he braked and his mistake therefore was thinking that by braking later he’d got far enough ahead to turn in.
Compare this to the various battles Alonso and Webber have had lately, including in the opening laps on Sunday. Every time they try to pass they give each other room and that’s what Massa should have done in this incident. To turn in as he did, he knew that a collision was almost certain and that’s why he got a penalty.
Alonso and Webber respect each other and therefore do not collide. You can fill in the gaps for yourself.