How Hamilton has changed
by David Croft (U7636991) 18 October 2007
It was a gloriously hot Melbourne afternoon, the sort that was just made for lazing on the beach before taking frequent dips into the cool water. Standing just yards from the Pacific Ocean was Lewis Hamilton, surfboard in his hand smiling in the sunshine.
Hamilton's comments about driving in the number two car were clever enough for the penny to drop and the headlines to be writtenDavid CroftHe still is, of course, but so much has changed since that day in Melbourne.
From the very start, Hamilton has backed up his words with some brilliant driving on the track.
I remember talking to his father in Australia about his son's role within the team and Anthony stressed at the time that Lewis was not there to play second fiddle and if that was how McLaren saw it at that moment, well Lewis certainly wasn't prepared to act that way for long.
Those thoughts, race by race, slowly and surely became very apparent. Hamilton may have driven brilliantly to protect his team-mate on the way to second place in Malaysia but he then had the upper hand in Bahrain and Spain, where Alonso looked more than a tad desperate heading into the first corner.
Then came Monaco and what I still believe was a sensible call from the team for the two Mclaren drivers to hold their positions after the second round of pit stops.
It was a call, though, that went against Hamilton's principles of racing right up to the chequered flag and he complained about it to the British media afterwards.
It was at Silverstone the next weekend where I think the enormity of the situation suddenly hit home for HamiltonHe did not whine and whinge but his comments about driving in the number two car were clever enough for the penny to drop and the headlines to be written. McLaren were forced to defend their team strategy to the media and governing body the FIA and although they were subsequently cleared by the governing body the story of unease between the two drivers began to be written in earnest.
Hamilton made sure Alonso's unease with the situation within the team grew by winning the next two races in North America handsomely, while in France a problem in qualifying left the Spaniard 10th on the grid and unable to do anything to prevent Hamiltonís lead extending to 14 points.
It was at Silverstone the next weekend where I think the enormity of the situation suddenly hit home for Hamilton.
He was the star of the show, "Mansell Mania" was happening all over again and the pressure was on for him to deliver a win. For once, he could not deliver fully.
Before the race Hamilton sought out a quiet spot in the pit lane to avoid the public glare, he tensed up and in the race was outclassed. He kept up his run of podium finishes, but only because Ferrari's Felipe Massa stalled on the grid.
After a huge accident in qualifying for the European Grand Prix, Hamilton put up a storming performance in the torrential rain in Germany but for the first time couldn't finish in the points, and then came Hungary.
It should never be forgotten that, for whatever reason, Hamilton started the chain of events in HungaryThose in Budapest that hot weekend in August will remember it for a very long time.
All seemed perfectly normal until the start of the final qualifying period. Twenty minutes later Alonso was on pole and McLaren boss Ron Dennis was slamming his headset down on his pit-wall desk following a heated radio conversation with Hamilton.
It should never be forgotten that, for whatever reason, Hamilton started the chain of events by ignoring the radio calls to let Alonso past.
Alonso should not have held Hamilton up later on, thereby denying him the chance to get in one more flying lap, but it was Hamilton who started it.
He also, with some more clever comments in the news conference, let it be known exactly what he thought of Alonso's actions, and interestingly by now was speaking with the confidence and self-assurance of a man who had long moved on from the notion of playing second fiddle.
What happened on race day was a brilliant demonstration of how Hamilton is able to cast aside any off-track distractions. His victory was inch-perfect. But equally illuminating was the way he seized on his team-mateís anger.
While the world champion was threatening to go to the FIA to reveal the details of his e-mail inbox, Hamilton was busy apologising to the guys in the garage for his actions the day before, nailing his colours to the McLaren mast as the season headed for its summer break.
This has been an epic performance this year from a driver that, as Sir Jackie Stewart says, "has re-written the rookie rule book"It has been noticeable just how many times Hamilton directly refers to and praises the efforts of the team on his behalf. And while Alonso has become increasingly isolated, Hamilton has integrated himself with the guys who can help him to the world title.
McLaren still maintain the mantra of equality and publicly don't favour either driver, but Hamilton's comments and actions have gone down very well within the team.
Take for instance the FIA world council hearing into the "spy-gate" scandal. Hamilton turned up as a witness for McLaren. Alonso stayed away.
It was not the best preparation for Hamilton ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix and maybe it showed on the track, but it did not go unnoticed at Woking.
Hamilton was beaten into fourth place at Spa, but first thing on the Monday morning he was at the factory talking to his engineers, finding out where he could improve.
It was a good move and it paid off with victory in the wet in Japan, but even that consummate drive was not without controversy.
Was Hamilton driving within the rules behind the safety car? I spoke to one driver who thought not and that Hamilton deserved a punishment from the stewards.
In the end they decided differently but for some reason I still can't fathom took 24 hours to decide this in China the following weekend.
It was while waiting for the stewards to get their act together that Hamilton spoke to the BBC of his unhappiness at the politics of this season and how if this was the way things were going to continue then maybe he didn't want to stay part of it.
It was a comment that came very much out of the blue, but it showed his frustrations at the time. I thought he had every right to be annoyed. After all, he was on the verge of winning a world title and the prospect of a penalty before the race was hanging unnecessarily over his head.
But once again qualifying showed how Hamilton could brush aside the politics to perform brilliantly on the track, but for the first time this season come race time he and his team did crack.
How costly that decision to keep Hamilton out far beyond the life of his tyres will prove will become apparent by the end of this weekend and in such an unpredictable season anything of course can still happen.
But Hamilton's confidence has not diminished and if, as he has all season, he has learnt from what has gone before, he should be OK.
If he does not win the title it will not be for the lack of trying and it will not be a failure either. This has been an epic performance this year from a driver that, as Sir Jackie Stewart says, "has re-written the rookie rule book".
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