Lewis Hamilton’s 2008 campaign was never going to be plain sailing after he raised the bar and sent expectations soaring with his stunning debut even without the hum-drum over ‘second year syndrome’. But with only seven races remaining and a mere five point lead in the championship, the Briton’s very experience of battling it out to the wire could prove to be the decisive factor in this year’s title fight.
The climax to the 2007 season was marred by problem and incident. First came a miscall on the McLaren pit wall not to change Hamilton’s tyres at the rain-hit Chinese Grand Prix a decision which culminated in him famously over-cooking it into the pit-lane and planting his McLaren in the gravel. This was followed by an unnecessary and over-ambitious over-taking attempt on team mate Fernando Alonso in Brazil after losing position at the race start, before a gear-selection problem ultimately pulled the trigger on his title dreams.
It all came back to haunt him in Hungary a fortnight ago when a puncture intervened on his hopes to eclipse Felipe Massa for victory, while the Brazilian’s own engine failure three laps from the chequered flag acted as a stark reminder that no one is immune to ill-luck and misfortune at this crucial stage of the championship.
As the Formula One entourage heads into the unknown for the European Grand Prix next week, hosted for the first time at the Spanish port city of Valencia, it would seem that Hamilton has been quick to learn from his experiences. It was all concealed neatly in the discourse of ‘consistency’ of course, but the message from British star was clear: mistakes, miscalls and unnecessary risks from team and driver are firmly off limits in the decisive remaining races.
“The race in Hungary showed just how unpredictable Formula 1 can be,” he said. “I am still in a good position to challenge for the world championship and that remains my aim.”
“We still feel confident about our chances we know our rivals will be strong, but we’ve worked hard to improve the car and are confident we’ll be competitive this weekend. The most important thing is to finish consistently in the points.”
Hamilton also pointed to the fact that neither he or his chief rivals Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen have been able to string together a solid run of results, while each have had their dips in form: Lewis with his pit-lane faux-pas and respective penalties in Canada and France; Felipe’s disastrous outing in the wet and Silverstone; and Kimi Raikkonen’s disappointing showings in qualifying of late.
“This year, everybody’s results have been more varied and every driver who has won a race has also failed to score on at least two other occasions,” he affirmed.”
“That’s made getting strong results even more important, but I think we’ll see consistency becoming crucial as we head towards the end of the season.”
This context puts even greater onus on reliability and strong form at the European Grand Prix, with past form suggesting that there is very little to choose between McLaren and Ferrari.
The general feeling is that the McLaren has been superior in qualifying with both drivers being able to extract more from their Bridgestone Potenzas, while Ferrari have tended to demonstrate a stronger race pace.
“We’ve done some preparation back at the McLaren Technology Centre ahead of this race, but our main focus will still be the three free practice sessions ahead of qualifying,” admits Hamilton.
“I’ll be working closely with my engineers to make sure we start the weekend with a good baseline and work hard to strengthen it as we go through the weekend. I enjoy visiting new racetracks and I’m looking forward to getting into the cockpit on Friday morning. It looks like being an amazing track.”