My thoughts on Lewis Hamilton’s disqualification

In Formula 1 on 05 April, 2009 at 10:53 pm

Before the second race of the season had started, the FIA stewards in Malaysia called on Toyota’s Jarno Trulli, McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton and their respective advisers to once again explain the final stages of the Australian Grand Prix.  It should be noted that this was not due to Toyota protesting Jarno Trulli’s 25-second penalty, as they had already decided not to.  Instead, it was because the FIA had noticed discrepancies in what had been officially stated in the Stewards room after the race and what had been said to members of the press…

The BBC coverage showed the problem very clearly.  Lewis Hamilton and McLaren’s Sporting Director, Dave Ryan, had been asked whether or not the team had instructed Hamilton to let Trulli past after he had gone off the track during the final safety car period.  They both said “No”… In the recording of the team radio broadcast from the race, however, it could clearly be heard that they had.  Hamilton, to his credit queried the instruction, as he was sure (and correctly so) that as Trulli had left the track completely and rejoined behind Lewis, he had lost that place.  The team told him to “play it by the book” and let Jarno past.  Trulli, unaware that McLaren were doing this, simply thought that Lewis had a problem, and slowed because of that.  Onboard footage corroborates both stories.

Lewis Hamilton was disqualified from the results of the Australian grand Prix, and Jarno Trulli was reinstated back in third place.   Last years “Golden Boy” of the British Press was suddenly being painted as a “Liar”… James Allen (last year’s ITV commentator, alongside Martin Brundle) has a sample of press headlines from around the world.  The nastiest stories coming from Germany’s “Bild” and England’s “Daily Mail”… The Spanish press, who were so negative towards him in 2007, when he was Fernando Alonso’s teammate were surprising restrained in comparison… See his blog for more detail…

Lewis and Martin Whitmarsh (the McLaren Team Principal) both gave press conferences…

Lewis was obviously very emotional, and pleaded forgiveness from his fans, the FIA, the stewards and pretty much everyone watching.  He felt he had been misled by Dave Ryan (whom McLaren have suspended) who allegedly told Lewis not to mention discussing the events with the team, in other words, to lie to the stewards.

Now, before we all label him the “British Michael Schumacher” for all the wrong reasons, let us just think for a moment.  Firstly, all F1 drivers have a certain level of arrogance, self-belief that they are the best driver in the field, and they can be World Champion.  If they didn’t, they wouldn’t have made it to F1 in the first place.  In Lewis this is re-inforced by the fact that he has beaten two previous World Champions (Alonso and Raikonnen), plus the fact that McLaren have sponsored him for something in the region of eight years, and given him the best car for two years running.  He is therefore also very grateful to the team for believing in him and loyal for it.  He has said in the past that he would quite happily see out the rest of his career at McLaren.  As a driver, you are an employee of the team, particularly at a Corporation like McLaren, with its Management Jargon (what used to jokingly be called “RonSpeak”) Matrix Structure Business Organsation, high-level sponsors and clean-cut image.  Even Fernando Alonso, previously famous for his shaggy hair and variable facial hair designs, appeared clean-shaven and freshly-shorn when he debuted for the team in 2007.  This is a team that has an image to uphold.

The couldn’t “fail”, they simply couldn’t “achieve the targets that we initially desired”; they don’t have a car, an engine and a driver, they have a “package”; they don’t “lie”, they “weren’t truthful and may have withheld some information”…

In the current world climate, with banks and insurers seen as greedy rich monsters that have broken the world economy, corporations as a whole are viewed with distrust. McLaren speak like a corporation, using big, impressive words to convey in a paragraph, something that could have been said in a few words.  David Coulthard and Fernando Alonso are both ex-McLaren drivers, and their attitudes in interviews and press conferences were noticeably different when they were official McLaren Drivers from when they were driving at Renault or Red Bull.  When you are an employee, you do and say what the company wants you to do or say.

Lewis did what he thought the company wanted him to.  He had just finished a race in fourth place, when he (and Trulli) thought he should really have been classified third.  He was tired, and still recovering from two hours behind the wheel of a car that by all accounts had all the charm, power and handling of a tractor, that he had somehow managed to drag home from one of the tougher races on the calendar.

The sad fact of the matter is, if they had told the truth, the team might have been punishing for getting the regulations wrong, but Hamilton would have been cleared by his own recorded questioning of the teams request.  I think the worst thing that might have happened, would be Hamilton being allowed to finish fourth, and collect the points for that position, but they do not count towards the Constructors’ points.  At best, they would both have got the points for third, with Trulli getting fourth.

Another thing to bear in mind about Formula One drivers is this:  Very few of them have ever had much dealing with the “Real World”… They have been racing since they were kids.  They have only had one job: Driving fast.  when they arrive in F1, the lucky ones suddenly have millions of dollars  or pounds or euros flying at them, from teams, from sponsors, fans and the press.

Some of them learn the hard way.  One season in a car that isn’t set-up for your driving style, or a car that just can’t score points can wreck a driver’s future.  Having a World Champion in the team can make matters worse.  Particularly if the car suits them better.  Michael Schumacher, Ayrton Senna, Fernando Alonso and Mika Hakkinen all made critics think that their teammates weren’t up-to-scratch… Some survived, and went on to prove that given the right car, and the right circumstance, they COULD beat a World Champion and use that to point out that given that car and those circumstance again, they too could be contenders…

Rubens Barrichello and Jarno Trulli have proved their skill in the last two races.  Jenson Button is still doubted by some thanks to his time in the Bennetton and BAR years, when he drove one of the slowest cars in the pack.  In F1 circles, they call those “character-building” seasons.  It is something that Lewis hasn’t had to deal with.  The McLaren for the last two years has been a front-runner. McLaren don’t like losing. Really don’t like losing. It is a failure, and McLaren  don’t do failures.

Lewis Hamilton is at the beginning of what could very well become a “Character-Defining” year.  The press are going to be watching him every inch of the way, and this “lying to the stewards” affair (that some dumbass lazy journalist is inevitably going to call Hamiltongate or Lie-gate, or Ryangate, because they forgot that Watergate was a F*&^ing hotel, not a gate) is not going to go away… He might regret not spending his first year in F1 alongside his buddy, Adrian Sutil at Force India, out the limelight of being Fernando Alonso’s hot-shot teammate…  He will be under more scrutiny than Button had to face back when Jenson went to Bennetton from Williams, to make way for Juan Pablo Montoya.  It won’t just be the British Press.  It will be the World’s Press.

Lewis Hamilton has been very well trained to deal with the media.  McLaren have shaped him into a Model Driver, sponsor-friendly, and a Fan Favourite.  Those sponsors don’t like to be associated with “liars”.

It has been said that the British Popular Press love to build people up, just so they can knock them down again spectacularly.  Look at the Beckhams.  Or Michael Schumacher.  They didn’t build him up, they just attacked someone who had already been built up by others… The British Popular Press will still try to find some way of mentioning scandal and Michael Schumcher whenever the opportunity arises.  It sells papers.

I hope, for his sake, that Lewis can get through this year and turn the car and team around into something positive.  It will harden him and wake him up a bit.  Jenson was sniped at by the Press for his Millionaire lifestyle while driving a slow car.  Lewis is going to be thinking that Rourke’s Drift would have been a holiday in comparison…

Who knows, McLaren might develop a bit of personality too!


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