A most worthy champion

Fri, 26 October 2007, 12:48

Lewis Hamilton was supposed to take the title right? He came on to the scene and drove like a veteran almost from race 1. He was singularly impressive and, for the most part, very consistent. He was loved by his team. It was almost destined…

There are many reasons behind his performance this year of course – let’s briefly look at his past as an explanation, for those of you who still don’t know: Aged nine (or ten or eleven depending on which one of the millions of reports out there you choose to read), a boy walks up to none other than Ron Dennis, one of the most successful Team Chiefs in the sport, and tells him that he wants to drive for him one day. Now I don’t doubt that this probably happens to Ron on a fairly regular basis so no-one can be sure why this one was taken to heart so much, but it was – a connection was made and the intrepid Mr. Dennis took Lewis under his wing.

For the next ten-odd years, Lewis works hard with probably the ultimate inside man as his mentor. He is groomed for one thing and one thing only: Formula One. It was always the ultimate goal, the ultimate end. Is it really a surprise then, that he walked into F1 a roaring success? To anyone who really gave it any real thought, no.

Is it surprising that he attained this level of success this quickly? Frankly, yes, even to me. I predicted that, while Lewis would shine this year, he would not beat the level-headed Alonso. I could not, however, have predicted the sequence of events that followed during the course of the season. I could also not have predicted the intense level of arrogance from Lewis, nor could I have predicted the amount of leeway he would receive from the FIA, who have (yet again) been accused from numerous quarters of orchestrating the championship.

“Arrogance, you say?” I hear the Lewis fans shout in mortified surprise. I have but one quote to give you: “This is history” – a comment made by none other than Lewis himself after his win at the Canadian GP. The reference to Lewis being the next Michael Schumacher is actually quite ironic when seen in this light – in his levels of arrogance, his luck and his steadfast belief that the rulebook doesn’t apply to him.

And this is what The Iceman was up against – not a wide-eyed rookie but a man who had been groomed for F1 for years and who was, without doubt, the team’s tacit favourite – even the ones in most serious denial about this fact had to have woken up when Ron said, in a moment of weakness after the race at Interlagos, that “’We’ were racing Alonso.” We? Alonso was driving for your team Ron…

Meanwhile Kimi had arrived at a new team with new people, new team dynamics, new tyres and a very different way of doing things. The Iceman’s driving for the first half of the season was even described as “insipid” by some hacks. What it was, in fact, was a consummate display of The Finn’s calculating, patient mind, coupled with his ability to make use of circumstances when they suited him. How often have we seen Kimi sit patiently behind a competitor, not pushing, not trying to overtake, saving fuel, only for him to suddenly set blistering lap times when that competitor pits? That is the kind of level-headed patience that could have saved Lewis at Interlagos. Sure, Kimi can open the taps when he has to – and not only for one or two laps. Think back to 2005 and the number of times Kimi started from the back or close to the back due to another McLaren engine failure during qualifying. How many of those did he finish on the podium, win even? The Iceman is a man for all seasons and he does what the moment calls for. At Interlagos he had to win and no matter how much we speculate about Massa letting him past or not, Kimi won. And his first half of the season? That was Kimi doing over a season what he normally does in a race – be patient, assess the situation, look at all the angles, plan and then bury the foot when the moment arrives.

And McLaren appeals. They cry foul. Cold fuel is cold fuel and rules are rules and the rules must be upheld. Forget about Lewis being hauled out of a sand trap by a crane (something so blatantly against the sporting regulations it’s ludicrous), forget about Lewis not being punished for his erratic driving behind the safety car (whether or not he caused the Vettel accident is immaterial – rules are rules and no-one can claim with a straight face that he maintained a maximum of five car-lengths behind the safety car), forget about Lewis using more than the permitted number of wet weather tyres just that very Friday and, most importantly, forget about the fact that Lewis was being allowed to race for a team who had been found guilty of espionage. No, it may not have been our Lewis’ fault, he may not have been involved, but the car he drove still carried the benefit and it is still what his competitors were up against. Anyone care to call that a fair fight?

Did Kimi whine like Alonso? Did he make self-absorbed comments like Lewis? Did he, or Massa for that matter, for one moment look like they were about to enter into a bitter, destructive, Prost/Senna-esque rivalry? No, he got on with the job. He was criticised, maligned, believed not to be working hard enough and, for most of the first half of the season, soundly beaten by his team-mate. In the background, however, Kimi was working closely with his engineers to find out what was going wrong and how he and the car improve. The result? A phenomenal second half of the season, more races won than anyone else and the Drivers’ crown. A crown on which he narrowly missed out on two previous occasions due to reliability issues and the propensity for people like Ralf Schumacher to drive into the side of him for no apparent reason. Yes, you may say Hamilton was robbed by reliability and the tyre issue but let’s not forget that Kimi had his own retirements due to reliability this season – it all evens out.

And now that it’s all over, does Ferrari care how many shots of Vodka their new favourite son had this year? Do they care how hard he partied? Hell no.

All hail the Iceman!

Edu de Jager

For all the columns by this author, click here

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