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Sunday, April 29, 2007

What To Make Of Hamilton?

On the back of 3 successive podium finishes the media hails him as the next Schumacher. On the other hand, I'd urge a little caution before heaping such praise on Hamilton. The fact remains that on 2 out of the 3 races he's had so far, he's been beaten by his teammate. But nevertheless, Hamilton has exceeded my expectations and in fact he is a very solid driver indeed, I have to (grudgingly) admit.

Watching the two McLaren drivers in Sepang I was hard pressed to spot the differences in their driving styles. However, as Hamilton hounded Filipe Massa in Bahrain, I did notice one inescapable fact. He drives like a karter. He loves the edge of the track and takes a late turn in to the hairpin and clips a late apex. By comparison, Massa takes a much earlier turn in and tighter line. Hamilton's driving does in fact reflect Michael's early on in the great German's career. Lots of sharp turn ins, lots of brake lock ups.

Anyone who's watched him in the junior formulae will recognise that the almost cocky style of driving has been carried forward into Formula 1. In the GP2 last year, he was blindingly quick, at times up to a second faster than his rivals. When behind and chasing, he darts and weaves in a manner that leaves the viewer in no doubt of the man's confidence in his abilities and that of his car. It reminds me of his fellow Briton Nigel Mansell.

But confidence is certainly what he has in spades. That's how he's been able to handle the pressures and expectations. In fact, I believe he relishes the press he gets and the more he gets the more he thrives. Confidence. Thats what attracted Ron Dennis to him in the first place. In fact more than confident he's a little cocky to me. A bit like Michael I guess. If you can't see this on the track, you'll definitely notice it in the press conferences.

Let's not get carried away with the Schumacher mantle. There have been other drivers with impressive debuts as well. Have we all forgotten Juan Pablo Montoya so quickly? He too exploded into the scene with Williams and in the process gave Michael Schumacher a scare in only his second race overtaking Michael with such insolence and confidence in Sao Paolo. And like Hamilton, Juan Pablo also excelled in the junior formulae. Nick Heidfeld for instance can tell you how the Colombian simply blew him away in F3000. But now look where Juan Pablo has ended up. Quite a waste and potential unfulfilled.

But what Hamilton has got that Juan Pablo never had is a cool head, no doubt drummed into him under the tutelage of Ron Dennis. As I've said before, old Ron must be thrilled by the performance of his protege. But beat Fernando? I am as yet unconvinced. In time perhaps.

In the meantime, I wonder which rap artist will come up with a tune with the lyrics, "I bust a move like my name was Lewis Hamilton." Or something like that. And how long before Hamilton buys a Bentley slammed with 21 inch wheels?

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