Championship leader Lewis Hamilton admits that his title-wrecking excursion into the gravel in last year’s Chinese Grand Prix should never have happened, but vows: “I’m stronger for it.”
The McLaren driver narrowly lost out to Kimi Raikkonen in last year’s title fight and an unnecessary scrap with the Finn in the wet at China leading to a tyre puncture and his infamous run-in with the pit lane gravel was partly to blame.
As Hamilton heads to Shanghai one year on for the penultimate race of the season his championship lead over nemesis Felipe Massa sliced to five points after a drive through penalty in Japan the British star is adamant that the mistakes of last year’s race made him a more complete driver.
“Sometimes I ve been on YouTube and seen a video clip or a picture of me in the gravel last year and thought, Damn! That shouldn’t have happened, he recalls.
“But it was a learning mistake. I can still move forwards from it; things like that happen for a reason and it taught me a lot. Last year, the last couple of races taught me a lot about my personality and my life. And I m stronger for it.”
Indeed, all the talk from Hamilton and McLaren in the latter half of the season has been of prudence and caution in their championship campaign after last year’s mistakes.
But last week’s Japanese Grand Prix in which Hamilton was dealt a race-destroying drive through penalty for an aggressive start line move on Kimi Raikkonen proved just how difficult it is for Briton, the natural racer that he is, to adopt a conservative approach one hundred per cent of the time.
Hamilton came under fire for his actions not only by the stewards, but also his peers and established members of the F1 community
Kimi Raikkonen said after the race: “What Hamilton did at the start at Fuji was not clean. He didn’t give me a chance to turn into the corner.”
“You have to learn how to find braking points when you are six years old in go karts. Obviously you should know how it goes at this level,” the Finn added.”
Triple world champion Jackie Stewart was also unimpressed. He told told rbssport.com: “This was not his finest hour. His approach in that first corner was slightly arrogant to other drivers.”
“Weaving in and out of other cars, as Lewis did in the run to the first corner, puts other drivers in the position of having to avoid his manoeuvre.”
“The Japanese race demonstrated that Lewis is still very young, in only his second season, and although he comes across as very cool in interviews, he doesn’t always have the same level of mind management when he’s racing.”
“Lewis Hamilton can still win the championship, but not if he drives the last two races the way he drove in Japan.”
Hamilton meanwhile has shrugged off the criticism and conceded that the frustration vented by his peers is only inevitable in the context of a championship nearing its conclusion.
“They are my opponents, and if you are going for the championship as I am, it has to be expected that your rivals try to put maximum pressure on you even off the track,” he told German Newspaper Bild
“I have good friends among the drivers and I respect them all. I am also sure that they respect me as well.”
“But clearly not everyone is going to publicly support me, and why should you praise your opponents?”