Saturday, July 2, 2011

Hamilton looking to get back on track

In Valencia

Lewis Hamilton knows as well as anyone that the best way to answer criticism is to come back stronger and prove the naysayers wrong.

Odd, then, that in Valencia the McLaren driver has seemed uncertain about his intention to draw a line under a difficult month with a strong performance at this weekend's European Grand Prix.

In a television interview, Hamilton talked confidently about "turning over a new leaf", adding: "I'm looking forward to another opportunity to score points this weekend."

A few minutes later, Hamilton's mood towards the weekend had U-turned as he shrugged: "If it's another bad one, it's another bad one and there's nothing you can do about it."

It didn't look like being a bad weekend on Friday, as Hamilton finished the day as the second fastest man, just 0.2 seconds behind Fernando Alonso's Ferrari.

But when he got out of the car to face the media, Hamilton again sounded flat and when asked whether he could win his first pole of the season he answered: "I'm not going to get my hopes up, that's for sure."

It is hardly surprising that Hamilton finds himself with conflicting emotions. The last two races in Monaco and Montreal have been little short of disastrous for the 2008 champion.

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It began with road rage on the streets of Monte Carlo, where Hamilton criticised the race stewards and called his fellow drivers "ridiculous".

Hopes that the fall-out from his outburst could be assuaged at the next race in Canada - a favourite track where he has twice won - were quashed when Hamilton sent Mark Webber's Red Bull spinning before crashing out as he tried to squeeze past his McLaren team-mate Jenson Button.

Former Ferrari driver Eddie Irvine has claimed Hamilton has "lost the plot" while three-time world champion Niki Lauda went as far as suggesting the Englishman's aggressive driving could "get someone killed".

As if that wasn't enough to take on board, Hamilton has had to face questions about his future after a tete-a-tete with Red Bull boss Christian Horner in Montreal led to renewed speculation Hamilton was actively looking for a way out of McLaren.

While Horner may have played down his keenness on Hamilton in Valencia, there has been plenty of support for the embattled driver.

McLaren have backed him to win this weekend, and some of the F1 fraternity - including Alonso, Webber and driver-turned-BBC analyst Anthony Davidson - urged Hamilton not to change his driving style.

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Hamilton himself seems to be flip-flopping between emotions in his response to the criticisms and questions about his future.

The concept of 'backing yourself' may be an adage of former England cricket captain Michael Vaughan but it might just be the best way of Hamilton seizing control of the spiralling situation.

Hamilton is regarded as a naturally fast racer who is capable of pulling off overtaking moves with flare and control - and it is those positive attributes the 26-year-old knows he has to focus on, following chats with Button and McLaren bosses Ron Dennis and Martin Whitmarsh.

"I've stood back and had a look at things," he reflected in Valencia, on the back of his joke that it had taken only "one night out" to recover from Canada.

"The team are always supportive, as are Ron, Martin and Jenson, but when you have tough days in the office you have to try and analyse things and take a step back.

"I like the way I drive but you can always have better judgement and make better calls in the future.

"We are still in the middle of the season and the most important thing is to motivate my team and myself to do better."

McLaren and Hamilton - who has finished second in every European GP staged around Valencia's harbour - have every reason to be confident they will again be competitive this weekend.

The team have demonstrated superior race pace over rivals Red Bull and Ferrari in the last three grands prix and McLaren arrived in Valencia with an upgraded aerodynamic package.

But the momentum within McLaren has, for the moment, swung in Button's favour after the 31-year-old battled his way to victory in Canada and moved up to second in the championship, with Hamilton slipping from that position down to fourth.

Hamilton is already 76 points behind Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel in the title race - and that's more than the equivalent of three race wins.

Hamilton may have stopped short of saying it in so many words in Valencia but, with a deficit like that, the future has to start now.


Hamilton says he plans to think twice before making any potentially risky manoeuvres in the European Grand Prix.

The 26-year-old is not aiming to tone down his natural racing instincts - he just wants to finish safely inside the points.

After four collisions at the last two races in Monaco and Montreal, a relaxed looking Hamilton says he will use his judgement to ensure he is on the podium, at the very least, in Valencia.

Hamilton qualified third behind the Red Bulls of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber. He started in exactly the same position last season and from there he took second.

The Englishman has a good record around the Marina Circuit - he's actually finished as runner-up in the all three races European GPs held here - and if McLaren can manage the tyres in hot race conditions he has every chance of keeping up his good record.


John James Jean Pierre Jarier Max Jean Stefan Johansson Eddie Johnson Leslie Johnson Bruce Johnstone

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