The Formula One circus rolls into France this week and 22-year old Wunderkind Lewis Hamilton is the headline act after winning the last two races to lead the championship in only his rookie season. And the British have lost it.
Such is the buzz surrounding Hamilton, British newspapers have, for the first time in decades, stopped reporting about grand prix racing. Instead, every day, every headline, is about one driver, whether there’s something new to say or not. So hysterical are the British press that Hamilton’s boss last week suggested the young Briton might have to move away from the UK to protect his private life.
But didn’t he win the last two races from pole position in straight fights against F1’s reigning double world champion, McLaren teammate Fernando Alonso? Isn’t he 10 points clear in the world championship? Wouldn’t you be nuts to bet against him now? Sensationally, yes, on all counts. Make no mistake, the hype has some substance.
But where is the balance between the Daily Mirror’s mawkish “Lewnited States of America” sensationalism and some proper critique. So here are the questions the F1 press should be asking itself:
- Can greatness in motor sport be achieved by driving brilliantly in seven races after strolling into an excellent team which built the best car in the field?
- Will Lewis Hamilton still be great in August if his teammate Alonso — who won his titles on Michelins — finally gets to grips with Bridgestone’s unfamiliar tyres and resumes beating the rookie?
- What if Lew injures himself and 36-year-old reserve driver Pedro de la Rosa wins the next few on the trot in his place? Will the low-profile Spaniard also be great within seven races?
- If Ron Dennis had played it safe and parked Hamilton at the backmarker team Spyker for a season, he probably would have made the experienced Christijan Albers look silly, just as Spyker rookie Adrian Sutil has done this year. So is Sutil great?
Alongside his inimitable focus and menacing charisma, Ayrton Senna’s incredible record of 64 pole positions from only 162 races (Schumacher achieved the same but from 250 races) made him great. And love or hate his win-at-any-cost approach, Schumacher’s seemingly insurmountable records for titles, victories, consecutive victories, podiums, laps led, fastest laps, and points (just to mention a few) make him great by definition.
Damon Hill, though, won eight races in 1996 with the best car and became world champion. He’s not a great. Jacques Villeneuve regularly and consistently beat Schumacher in the late 1990s, but today can’t find a NASCAR seat. Jody Scheckter won Ferrari’s last world championship before Schumacher and now feeds pigs for a living.
Similarly, Lewis Hamilton has won two races so far in 2007, as has his teammate, not to mention Ferrari’s Felipe Massa, who is making F1’s highest paid driver Kimi Raikkonen look like little more than an amateur.
So let’s just sit back and enjoy the race to this season’s chequered flag. Only then will we have a meaningful perspective on Hamilton’s season, and his promise. The answer to the question of his greatness is the best part of a decade away.