News and views on motorsports

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Lewis Hamilton

Over the last week much has been said about the bright eyed young McLaren protege, Lewis Hamilton. I've only ever seen him race twice on the telly. Once at Macau, which I must admit I've totally forgotten about. The other time was during the Turkish round of GP2 this year where he demonstrated some breathtaking pace and some superb racecraft. But then again, its easy to demonstrate such things when your lap times are at least a second faster than anyone else. Some, like old David Coulthard thinks he's been thrown into the deep end too early. Ron Dennis justifies the selection by saying that there was no one else better currently.

Its hard to say. Kimi Raikkonen for instance, competed in just 23 car races before landing a Sauber drive in Formula 1. A year after and McLaren was his destination. Could he have handled a McLaren on his debut year? Sure, he did well in the Sauber. But the pressure must have been a lot less for him than if he had driven for Woking in 2001. Fernando Alonso spent a year at Minardi and a year of testing before landing a Renault drive. Ayrton Senna could have had a drive with Williams, McLaren and Brabham for 1984 but chose up and coming Toleman instead. Michael Schumacher too had his debut in a Jordan, albeit for just a single race before being snapped up by Benetton. But having said that, Benetton was not yet at the time, the force it would be 3 years later and the force that it is now in the guise of Renault F1 but boy did that Schuey learn quick. He didn't so much learn. More like slipping into a pair of custom made John Lobbs. All so natural. Alain Prost made his debut in a McLaren in 1980 but in those were the days before the mighty MP4.

The point is, I think Hamilton could have been placed elsewhere to learn his craft. If he is truly the business then his speed and talent would immediately be apparent. Much like Alonso's was when he drove for Minardi. Who could miss the fact that the Spaniard could mix it with Arrows and Jordans in the lorry like Minardi? If Hamilton's talent is made of such stuff then he too would be driving the car beyond its natural limits. But that is secondary to the main point of the exercise, which is to get him used to the whole grand prix environment without so much pressure. Pressure that could otherwise break him.

Hamilton will be compared and often so to a double world champion whose pace and intelligence is beyond question. A teammate destroyer in the mould of Schumacher and Senna. If this weren't enough then of course there's the expectation of the media. The English media in particular. The ruthlessness of the British press is something I have witnessed first hand having spent many years over there. Jenson Button I bet just luurrves the attention.

Yet another challenge to Hamilton is the McLaren team itself. After a dismal 2006, I think it will be hard for McLaren to be challenging for world titles next year. I just don't see it what with the loss of so many key technical personnel. Hamilton is used to winning. He's used to dominating. I doubt if McLaren can give him a car to do this. Lets hope this will not become a source of frustration for him.

If Hamilton does succeed despite the many challenges then it will be to his credit. There will be very little doubt about his championship credentials. And we'll all know it immediately. Perhaps thats what Ron Dennis had in mind. Quickly give the lad a shot at it so that there will be no guessng by the end of next year. See, after all these years of supporting him, whether he sinks or swims at the deep end.

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