Britain’s Lewis Hamilton is one of the most popular and successful young drivers in the history of Formula 1. Regarded by many as amongst the most talented drivers in recent memory, in 2008, and at just 23, he was crowned World Champion.
In recent times however Hamilton’s reputation has taken a significant battering as a result of a series of incidents in recent races prompting criticism from rival drivers and media alike.
Just over a third through the FI season, 2011 is already slipping from the grasp of the McLaren-Mercedes driver. Currently fourth in the driver’s standings, Hamilton looks a long way off both the brilliance of his 2008 campaign and the form of reigning Champion Sebastian Vettel whose impressive season has already seen the German claim 5 of the opening 7 events.
After winning this season’s Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai, the fourth of the season, Hamilton’s campaign looked back on track only to soon lose momentum after struggling with significant tire wear in Turkey, before losing by just over half a second to Vettel in Spain.
These events are seen as key reasons for Hamilton’s recent and highly publicized meltdown at the Monaco Grand Prix late last month.
After starting from 9th on the grid in the prestigious event, Hamilton made a good start and quickly moved up to 7th overall. His race however began to unravel just a few laps later when he carried too much speed into a corner when attempting to pass Ferrari’s Felipe Massa at the famous Loews hairpin. An illegal move which earned Hamilton his first drive-through penalty of the day.
A second penalty arrived in the closing stages of the race when Hamilton found himself stuck behind the much slower Pastor Maldonado of the Williams team. This time, and at the exact same turn, Hamilton attempted an even more audacious maneuver to pass, in the process making significant contact with the Venezuelan and earning him another trip down the pit-lane.
In an interview after the race Hamilton took aim at race stewards and other drivers for the incidents. “You know what? Out of six races I’ve been to the stewards five times. It’s a joke.” Hamilton then bizarrely added “Maybe it’s because I’m black? That’s what Ali G says.”
BBC commentator and Former F1 driver Martin Brundle added to the controversy saying: “The problem with Lewis is that it’s always someone’s fault.”
In last weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix, Hamilton added fuel to an already raging fire by being involved in two more questionable incidents.
The first was at the very first corner when he made contact with Australia’s Mark Webber which resulted in the Red Bull driver facing the wrong way and ending up at the back of the field. Webber was good enough to recover and finish third, perhaps even better to exonerate Hamilton by suggesting no malice was involved.
The other incident, this time with team-mate Jenson Button, prompted criticism from all circles, including from Button himself during the race.
Hamilton was sitting behind Button in the straight and made an attempt to pass his team partner. When he went to overtake, Button naturally defended his position which forced Hamilton to deviate into the side of Button’s car only to send himself careening into the pit wall. The incident caused enough damage to force Hamilton to retire from the race. Meanwhile Button was able to continue, and after a masterful drive win the race but was heard over the radio after the incident asking his team “What was he doing?”
In the aftermath of yet another moment of lunacy, former World Champion Niki Lauda said of Hamilton: “What Hamilton did there goes beyond all boundaries. He is completely mad. If the FIA doesn’t punish him, I don’t understand the world any more. At some point there has to be an end to all the jokes. You can’t drive like this as it will result in someone getting killed.”
Hamilton’s antics clearly aren’t winning any supporters, instead the former World Champions is now seriously having both his sanity questioned and just as importantly, his ability to return to the top of a sport he conquered just a couple of years ago.
Joel Peterson is a first-year student in the Bachelor of Journalism (Sport) at La Trobe University.