Lewis Hamilton has been all over the radar recently, but it’s his team mate Jenson who has had the applause for his driving. Hamilton’s been criticised for his mistakes and manoeuvres, for his “celebrity” lifestyle1 and even his mannerism.
This is a fact to note right at the start of this article: Lewis has never been beaten by a team mate. Not even by reigning double world champion Alonso when he was a rookie. Lewis’s driving on track normally is full of confidence, he pulls off moves and takes risks that few drivers will ever take. His whole driving style is double-edged sword – it will win him races and it will make him instantly DNF.
There is no shortage of Lewis’ moments but perhaps the most recent one that comes to everyone’s mind is hisovertake on Jenson at China this year which enabled him to go on and take the victory. His overtake of Alonso around the outside of turn 2 at the Nürburgring gave him the lead to secure his victory.
On the other side of the coin, his unnecessary crashes at Monza with Massa and Webber in Singapore derailed his 2010 championship challenge. His driving in Monaco this year led to two drivers getting DNFs, him getting penalties and his reputation widespread negative press. His bizarre crash with Kobayashi at Spa took away a possible race win, in a race where his team mate came third from 13th on the grid.
So we can conclude that this is nothing new with Lewis. He always has his moments of brilliance as well as lack of judgement. However, this year is unique for Lewis in that he faces additional pressure as competition from his team mate. In his first year, he was just a rookie so had no pressure when it came to facing Alonso; beating the reigning double world champion was not expected and any victory was a bonus. Kovalainen never really challenged Lewis, to the point Lewis got car upgrades earlier in 2009.
With Jenson, he has a British world champion to compete with. This on paper, gives them equal footing at McLaren and it’s large number of British fans. Yes, there are differences between them, other than driving style and those apparent on track. Lewis established himself very early on in F1 to become one of the known faces whilst Jenson spent many years ignored, even in the shadow of Lewis in 2007 and 2008. Even Jenson’s 2009 championship didn’t silence some of his critics, saying it was a product largely of the early dominance of the car. In 2010, many didn’t give him a chance to challenge Lewis, such is his reputation. Jenson put the pressure early on with two wins in the rain but his challenge soon fizzed out thanks to his under-par qualifying efforts. Lewis could use his speed to out qualify Jenson and then finish higher.
In 2011, there were huge changes and the balance shifted. No longer was qualifying prime because a lot of the racing had to be done on track. Tyres were delicate so Jenson’s famed “delicate and smooth” driving style became an advantage. Lewis had to do more on track racing than ever before. This meant he would certainly make a lot more passes but also make a lot more mistakes.
Whilst Lewis’ DNFs have been due to his own mistakes, Jenson’s DNFs have been outside his control. In Silverstone his wheel was not fitted correctly whilst in Germany he suffered a hydraulics failure. Things would be looking a lot worse for Lewis if that bad luck didn’t haunt Jenson. And Lewis knows this.
This is the first time Lewis has genuinely been put under competitive pressure2 by his team mate. This is the first time where the momentum has been on a McLaren driver other than him. This is the first time the press andBritish press favour a McLaren driver other than him.
Martin Whitmarsh has pretty much admitted they plan to sign Jenson on a long term contract and move the team forward with him thanks to the input he provides. Infact, I’ll go as far as to say maybe one of the reasons Jenson’s contract has not been signed and declared is because of the psychological impact it might have on Lewis who is currently downtrodden.
Lewis has done well to deal with external pressure, from Fleet Street, away from his ‘home team’ he has been with since he was 12. This time, the pressure comes from within his ‘home’, applied by an amiable team mate on the top of his game. Lewis will do well to come back but this will be his hardest challenge yet.
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- I find this one ridiculous. Lewis Hamilton’s face stares at me when I walk into my Santander bank. Of course he is a celebrity. A young one and actually, he’s dealt with it pretty well. ↩
- By “competitive pressure” I disregard his rookie year with Alonso where there were many other issues in the air rather than just performance on track. Here Lewis is being challenged tooth and nail, fairly by a British world champion. Also, Lewis largely led the championship from Alonso all year until his misfortunes in the last two races. ↩