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3 minutes with…Lewis Hamilton
3 minutes with…Lewis Hamilton
Posted By:   |  20 Apr 2009   |  9:46 am GMT  |  83 comments

A lot of people are confused by the performance of Lewis Hamilton in the Chinese Grand Prix.

Rain is a great leveller in Formula 1. Talented drivers who do not have the car to compete in normal conditions can shine on a wet track and we have seen plenty of that over the years.

Wet races in the last couple of years seem to have been dominated either by Sebastien Vettel or by Hamilton. Hamilton delivered his masterpiece at Silverstone last July, but in Shanghai this weekend he had a very different kind of race, which showed that having the right car is just as important in the wet as the dry, especially with these 2009 cars.

He started brightly, attacking in the opening laps and making up places. He passed Raikkonen for 6th place on the first racing lap, then Trulli for 5th, then dropped back to 10th. He passed Kovalainen, Raikkonen again and was 4th on lap 24, with pace not too far off Button’s. He pitted on lap 33 and at that time his pace was comparable with drivers who were already on new wet tyres. So the tyres held up quite well in the first stint and all was going well. Perhaps the two safety car periods had given his tyres the right treatment.

But he pushed very hard in the opening laps of the second stint, fuel adjusted he wasn’t far off Vettel’s times. On lap 35 for example, he did a 1m55.153, a second faster than Button despite being significantly heavier and only 1.3 secs slower than Vettel (who was about to pit) despite his fuel weight slowing him by 2 secs/lap.

However he had taken too much out of the tyres. His pace dropped off after lap 44 and a spin on lap 49 lost him fifth place to team mate Heikki Kovalainen.

Here Lewis frankly admits that he didn’t deliver the kind of performance he expects of himself in those conditions. Perhaps the way the tyres held up in the first stint fooled him into thinking they’d be okay in the second. He didn’t think his way through the race..

That wasn’t what people have come to expect from you in the wet
“I love racing in the wet but I would say that was one of my worst wet weather performances. I made lots of mistakes. It was tricky out there, I was pushing hard, had quite good pace early on when I had some grip, but too many mistakes.

“You know me, I generally have good wet races, this one was incredibly tough. It was almost too dangerous to drive, you saw lots of people sliding off. I don’t have enough downforce on this car anyway, so it was a struggle but as least I scored some good points for the team.”

Did you push the car harder than it wanted to be pushed?
“All weekend I’ve been pushing that car beyond its limits and beyond what it is really capable of. Today when the tyres dropped off, I wasn’t able to avoid the oversteer moments.”

Why so many spins?
“There is nothing wrong with the car except the lack of downforce. I guess the guys with more downforce had no such a problem. My tyres were finished quite early so I was struggling with them. It was fun at the beginning when I had some grip. I don’t know if it’s the car or my driving style but it seems to destroy the tyres very early on. I remember I had just come out (of the pits) and they said I had 20 laps to go and my front left tyre was gone after 5 laps.”

What do you think about the performance of Sebastien Vettel?
“Congratulations to him, he did a fantastic job today. They have been very fast all weekend, so clearly they have one of the best cars.”

How long before you have a car which will allow you to race for a win?
“It’s going to be a good four or five races, it’s going to be some time. The guys are doing a fantastic job, so we’ve got to keep pushing.”

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Well, as some people have already said above, great “rainmasters” like Senna and Schumacher used to win in hard conditions with inferior cars. LH did not produce such a drive…


Hi Finn,

You obviously haven’t been watching the GP’s so far this year which is a shame ‘cos you’re missing some good stuff.

At Melbourne Hamilton got up to third, before he and the team spectacularly imploded. But in terms of driving, that was the best he could have possibly hoped for, and he finished higher than many drivers in much better equipment. I know Seb and kubica crashed out, but hey, they were only required to do a bit of motor racing, but failed.

At Sepang Hamilton got up to fifth (from 13th) and would probably have finished higher had the rave run full course.

Malaysia wasn’t great, but nobody ever wins them all. So i’m afraid your opinions on Hamiltons performances go quite against the facts so i presume you haven’t been able to see the races.

Vettel has done a spectacular job so far. It was a shame that the first time he came under pressure at melbourne he blew it, and i’ll never understand the apology thing – he did nothing wrong but got himself a 10 spot penalty.

However, its a long season and i’m hoping for more Hamilton v Vettel stuff. I’m loving seeing Hamilton in a crap car though, and loved the fact that his very first drive in a crap car saw him finish ahead of so many.


There is nothing wrong with the car except the lack of downforce. I guess the guys with more downforce had no such a problem.

Poor little dear…. I guess the trick diffuser was why he did so badly – I guess that’s why the red bulls ran away with the race :shrug: 🙂


The McLaren at the moment lacks downforce, so I think Lewis was trying to get more from the car than it had in China. In his great wet weather drives in the past like Fuji and Silverstone, he had the best car, and with good downforce, so was less likely to acquaplane and therefore could push that bit harder.. Now hes got to learn to adapt to getting the best out of a car that has inferior downforce. There’s probably a bit of frustration showing in his driving too, similar to Alonso last year when he made a lot of mistakes overdriving an uncompetitive car.

Vettel on the other hand now has a car that is the class of the field in the wet, so that is giving him the confidence to drive so well in those conditions.


did lewis say 4-5 races from now or 4-5 from start of season whats the point thats 8 races in. How could these teams have got it so wrong all the slow teams must have known at preseason there were major problems yet only now are they moving could be a long year for lewis at least he,s got the chick from the pussycat dolls shoulder to cry on.


Hi James,

A little bit off the point but relevant to this weekend. Why do you think Ferrari (and BMW) seemed to be able to match the pace of the Toyotas with there double deck diffuser at the Bahrain test but now are so much slower? Were Toyota hiding there performance until closer to the season start to give the other teams less time to copy them? or do you think Ferrari will be quicker this weekend?


I’ve never seen rain as a leveler or an equalizer… I see it as a randomizer. Especially when it comes to aquaplaning, which I’m not convinced can be prevented just by being skilled.

Hamilton’s great at passing people no matter what the grip levels are, being bad or good in the wet has nothing to do with it. Back when Massa was weak in the wet, he was weak in the dry. Now he’s improved, and again it doesn’t matter what the conditions are. I think everyone’s love for rain is overblown.


Hi James,

Firstly would like to say how much I miss you commentating with Martin, Legard is just annoying and does not have the insight you have, if I heard vettel from webber from Button from Barichello or from anywhere I am sure I will be going from his commentry and having mute pressed!!

I never understood how there was plenty of critics ready to attack your commentary, for me I enjoyed your regular “hello everybody”, everyone must agree Legard is just not good…..

One thing no-one has mentioned very much is why were cars not penalised for blocking heiki in qualifying, last year the mclarens were punished for the same thing?

I am an avid Mclaren & Lewis fan, but it does seem all is not well, to me Lewis is part to blame so talk of leaving Mclaren seems to me pretty lame to me when they put him where he is.

So what do you think the FIA will do to Mclaren and with Ron leaving Mclaren, surely there must be something behind the scenes so by Ron leaving it will mean the punishment would be less, has something been agreed? otherwise would Ron really give up his beloved Mclaren for possibly nothing if the FIA punish them really hard anyway?


What is your view on Fernando this race?

In my view Renault let him down again by sending him to the pits, if only he was able to do 3-4 laps after the safety car I reckon a different picture, by coming P13 or P14 instead of P20.


It must be very tough for Lewis to keep his motivation through the next 4-5 races; especially given his comment, ‘All weekend I’ve been pushing that car beyond its limits and beyond what it is really capable of.’


I would just like to add that Hamilton in a car that could barely get into Q2 at the last race has had 3 points scoring finishes (at the flag) out of three races. At the Barcelona test the car he had was god awful yet we don’t hear anything about him being a fantastic development driver or a hard fighter. No he spins a millions time in a car thats terrible and still gets some points… yet… isn’t as good as people say? HHmm…

In fact Hamilton is one of only 4 guys on the grid to score (at the flag) in each of the first 3 races. Can anyone after winter testing say they thought that was possible?

What some seem to not realise is that if Hamilton didn’t drive the nuts of the McLaren he may have been much further down the field. He literally bought some extra time to afford some mistakes. that’s the risk you take. Even with all the spins Heikki only JUST beat him.

At the moment everyone loves Vettel, which is FAIR enough. he is possibly the best driver on the grid atm. But all this nicey nice friendly BS we have at the front in F1 atm will soon change once we get to the sharpy end of the championship.

If McLaren can continue to develop as fast as they are and Hamilton starts challenging no doubt everyone will say it’s all the car…. had it been Fernando ‘7 tenths’ Alonso the comments would’ve been the complete opposite.


Speaking of downforce doesnt Force India have less and where was Sutil before he crashed? infront of Hamilton!

Its a combination of things, driver, setup, car. The old days of schumacher changing cars to wet setup is over.

Senna drove cars alot worse then hamilton and got podiums in the wet. Too early to judge. I dont think Mclaren will catchup perhaps top 5 is the best they will do.


This is off subject but, why is noone covering the problems Donington have at the moment? They are cancelling races due to saftey issues caused by track changes to create the tunnel. Also, they said they would announce details of their funding by end of March 2009……………


James, could you ask some questions?



It’s all well and good looking back to Barcelona 96 or Donnington 93, but those drives were following an opportunity to set the car up for the race day. Drivers don’t get an opportunity now to do much more than stick on a more suitable set of tyres and hope that their pit stops can coincide with the changing conditions.

More relevant to Lewis, when he won at Silverstone, he only ran with inters. Perhaps his style is fine with that tyre but too tough on full wets (he did destroy the inters at the end of Brazil last year too, but I’d suggest that while he can generate the heat to make them work in the rain, if it isn’t really wet enough as was the case for at least one full lap after his final stop there, he’ll just cook them).


Those people talking up Vettel’s performance as being one of the best ever should not forget that the 32 year old ‘F1 journeyman’ Mark Webber finished closely behind him in his best ever result. This clearly shows how far superior the Red Bull was in the conditions and suggests to me that pretty much any driver on the grid could have won in the Red Bull yesterday.

People talking about Monza should not forget that Vettel’s ridiculed team-mate – Bourdais was very quick as well and qualified 4th in the wet, which pointed to the strength of the Toro Rosso in the wet.

So the arguments people are putting forward to ‘big up’ Vettel and ‘put down’ Hamilton are hypocritical at best. And by the way – Hamilton lapped his teammate in the wet at Silverstone last year, but don’t let facts get in the way of your biased opinions.

Vettel is a very promising and talented driver, but some of the comparisons are ridiculous and did he not spin out of the race in the wet last week in Malaysia?


Just to change the subject, what of the stewards? How might Kovi have done if Webber had been penalised for the major block of his qualifying?

Was Trulli doing the right thing struggling back with a crippled car, causing the confusion under the SC that nearly put Vettel out of the race.

What was the stewards’ view of the serious Kubica collision (no little graphic telling us that the stewards were considering it and then dismissed it as a racing incident).

Nothing on the FIA site. Have you seen the steward’s report?


Hi James

Let me start by saying you were a great commentator and its not same without you, however you did go on about how great Hamilton was constantly comparing him with Senna which was way over the top. Do you agree that Hamilton has not improved much since his first year in f1? I always thought that he was a good driver but not a great. He has proven he can win in the best car but looks average when his car is not the best.

Having followed f1 for over thirty years I have seen Schumacher win many races and Senna to a lesser extent in inferior cars. Hamilton has an average teammate and yet struggles to out qualify him (fuel corrected).

Do you agree that Vettel in future will be regarded as the best driver of his generation?


I think this was a reasonably respectable performance from Hamilton but he probably felt that he needed a special result here, which made him push too hard for 4th place. I think it was a slight miss on the strategy side too, as someone said above they should have brought him in for an extra set of tires. It reminds me of ’07 where keeping him out too long then cost him the race.

Maybe it shows a slight chink in the armour from all the off-track attention too. Personally I think he’s had a very good season so far on-track, consistantly finishing further up the order than his car deserved.

He’s still one of the fastest drivers and best overtakers on the grid, his strategy calls (or lack thereof) are what let him down as ever.


James, I don’t disagree with yours and Lewis’ reasons for the sub-par performance, but I don’t think it was any different to Massa and Raikkonen’s last year at Silverstone where you and others seemed to come down on them as drivers like a tonne of bricks.


Ouch, some real Lewis hammering going on.

Vettel & Alonso on another planet when it comes to class driving’

We did see Alonso Vrs Hamilton in the same machinery in Hamilton’s rookie year…were you watching? 😛

I would say that Lewis has been delivering some great performances in a very poor car this year…probably made better use of his KERS system than any other KERS driver & is certainly using it to enhance his already prodigious overtaking talent!

By Lewis’ admission he didn’t have a good race in China. He was over-driving, trying to wring everything he could out of his package…I’m not going to knock him for trying….I’d love to know which driver has overtaken more cars than any other this year…I’d bet Lewis is top of the list.

It’s always difficult/dangerous to compare driver/cars from different generations, you’re better off trying to find some reference points.
Heikki Vrs. Shumi in race of champions in the same machinery, Heikki won!
Heikki Vrs. Hamilton in the same machinery last year, Heikki lost!

Don’t write Lewis off for a bad day at the office, he’ll prove you wrong. 😉

Look at the results, if it wasn’t for ‘Liargate’ Lewis would have scored points at every race this season despite having a car that has only once made it through to Q3

Facts Vrs. Opinion….

Facts every time!


Myles, I think you have it the wrong way round, it would be Lewis giving James the 3 minutes, if that was the case. It’s clear Lewis does not want to speak to the media, but has too according to regulations. But I think we will find he speaks less and less, which I think is a good thing. Better to just concentrate on his driving I say.
Dave Ryan – I’m sure he will have ample opportunity to tell his side of the story if he wants too.


I suspect Dave Ryan was paid handsomely by McLaren to keep his mouth shut forever. Which is tragic.


So Hamilton’s results aren’t as good now that he has a distinctly inferior car – is that such a shock? He still seems to be pushing all the time, and if that means a few spins, at least it shows that he’s trying, and I’m sure he’ll learn how to moderate some of the excesses, given time. Personally, I always find it interesting to see drivers learn and improve over their careers – remember, this is only his 3rd season.

Having said that, Vettel does seem to be fast becoming the star of the current generation. He seems to have talent in every department, and it’s be great if he could challenge for titles with a team outside the ‘grandee’ group – Mclaren, Ferrari, Renault etc.

And one question – why can some teams (notably Renault, nee Benetton) never ever seem to have two drivers/cars at an equal level of performance?

Oh, and I add my vote to those calling for JA to be back in the commentary box. JL is good, but…


@The Kitchen Cynic – I think people are picking into Lewis’ statements here for the sake of it.

“I got some points for the team” – people have focussed on the “I” bit and ignored the “for the team” bit. Lewis is still as much a team player as he always was.

As for him not being able to win in a poor car…they’ve had three races for pities sake! Schumacher wasn’t exactly stellar in the 1996 Ferrari but he took the chances when they came along (not very often). People need to give Lewis time before suggesting that he can’t win in a poor car!!!!

I think that Lewis has made a very very bad error of judgement in lieing to the stewards, but he has apologised and has taken a punishment already, with another one to be doled out at the end of the month. That should be that. Have some people no capacity for forgiveness? Can these people really say that they’ve never lied to anyone about anything?

… and I hate it when people say things are “literally” impossible – as if something can be figuratively impossible 😀


Why do you give 3 minutes to Lewis Hamilton, but not to Dave Ryan? Why have we not heard his side of the story, or are you afraid of the truth – the real truth? Does 34 years in the business mean nothing?

The Kitchen Cynic

Am I the only pedant who can’t stand references to making the car do more than it is capable of? I know what the phrase means, but it’s literally impossible! Ultimately. 99% of drivers are making their cars do less than they are capable of…perhaps even 100%.


I am really looking forward to the next race, to see how the Red Bull drivers deal with faster Brawn under normal dry conditions


“”Champions have to be hard as nails, but Lewis is different because he also has this humanity and that gets misunderstood sometimes.” (Whitmarsh)

OK, so the problem with Lewis is his ‘humanity’ and that he’s ‘misunderstood’… not that he lies and passes the buck elsewhere…


Hamilton has proven he can win races in the best car in the wet on the gird. The real talent however is the ability to win races when your car isn’t the best on the Grid. Think Schumacher in Spain 96, Vettel at Monza last year, and Senna at Donnington in 93. Lewis had the chance to join that group yesterday and didn’t do so.

I’m still waiting to see Hamilton show the talent that the media say he has, because it’s easy to say how great someone is when they have the best motor, but the true greats shine with shoddy cars also, and Lewis has yet to do that.


Maybe I’m reading too much into the semantics here, but you’ve quoted Lewis as saying: “I don’t have enough downforce on this car anyway, so it was a struggle but at least I scored some good points for the team”.

The Lewis of 2007 and 2008 would probably have said “we don’t have enough downforce […] but at least we scored some good points.” Is this a little pointer to reinforce the story that relations between Hamilton and McLaren are a little stressed at the moment?


It’s also worth noting something that was said earlier in the weekend. Lewis had a new front wing design for this weekend, Heikki tried it on Friday and didn’t see any advantage in it so stuck with the old one.
Heikki’s front tyres lasted the race and he didn’t have any incidents. Lewis’s tyres didn’t and he fell off a few times.
New doesn’t necessarily mean better…

Also coupled with Lewis’s attacking driving style (which has constantly destroyed front tyres throughout his career), the last thing he needs is an aero package that puts more on the front end.
I’m surprised this hasn’t ocurred to Lewis and the team this year.


should read

Considering the spins due to dire tyre wear would it not have been wiser to switch him to a 2-stopper considering his apparent superb pace?


Hamilton is a good driver in the wet not a great. Last year his car was far superior to the others in wet conditions due the McLaren having the most down force and the ability to retain heat into its tyres. If you look at his races prior to f1 he was average in the wet. Lat year Vettel showed him up in Brazil despite having an inferior car.
Hamilton reminds me allot of Jacques Villeneuve. Both had the best cars in their first two seasons, won the title in their second. However the moment they had a car that was not the best they failed to compete for race wins.
The real rain masters of the past such as Schumacher and Senna won races in conditions like China with far inferior cars than the current McLaren; they had the ability to win in inferior cars something that Hamilton can’t do. Races like Donnington 93 and Barcelona 96 are now legendary. People have put far too much pressure on Hamilton comparing him with such greats when he had the best car. I always said having followed f1 for over thirty years that the moment he has car that is the worst, just not best he would struggle and people will start writing him off as a driver. This is unfair as I think he is a really good driver capable of winning races in the best car, just not a great.

Congratulations to Vettel he is the easily the best driver in the wet I have seen since the legendary Schumacher, I think if he continues as he is he could be the best driver of his generation.


I remember Massa was spinning all over the track at last years British grand prix while Hamilton was the master of that race. And yesterday Massa seemed better than Hamilton in similar conditions. So it’s all about the car and the setup and the way the drivers behave to their tires I think. These are the best drivers in the world and they are capable of delivering good results at every condition.

BTW, Buemi drove a very good race in the rain despite this is his first Chinese grand prix.


So what did he say for the other 2 minutes?



Dear James Allen,

This blog is amazing, my favourite place to get F1 inside news.



I can’t stand Legard, he is ruining it. He is simply awful at it, and has me shouting at the screen half the time. You and Brundle had amazing chemistry, and you actually knew what you were talking about. Most of the internet agrees that Legard just isn’t cutting it. Please come back!


Downforce, tires etc…always to blame if he makes mistakes. He is just simply not as fantastic as all the hype around him suggests. Everyone says he passed Kimi more times, but why not mention the fact that this weekend he had modified diffusor and Kimi had a rubbish car. “You know me, I generally have good wet races…” this is what you don’t hear from Kimi, Fernando, Kubica or Vettel etc, they just have good races, but they don’t feel that they always need to tell how fantastic they are.


When asked about how impressive Martin Brundle thought Lewis had been so far this season, he answered: not really at all. Lewis infers that other teams/drivers didn’t spin because they have more downforce … does that include Kovi? Is Kovi driving for a different team in a different car?

Lewis really does need to learn how to race … being fast for a couple of laps and then falling back is plain thoughtless. Wish he could harness his undoubted talent to some cool thinking and intelligent driving.

Think Lewis sounds snide about Vettel’s achievement “so clearly they have one of the best cars” … putting Vettel’s victory down to the car. True in part (as were his performances in 2007/2008 when the car was the real star) … but it misses the fact that Vettel put in a fantastic performance not only in the race, but also in only doing 1 lap to quali in each session. Vettel and Alonso are on another planet when it comes to class driving …. Lewis would do well to learn that and try and emulate it rather than kidding himself that it is all down to the car.

Was interested to hear Brundle speculate on whether we might see Bruno Senna in F1 this year. He wondered if Senna might take Rubens’ seat at Brawn, but I think it is far more likely he will take Fisi’s seat at Force India (SOON!!)

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