Okay, Lewis Hamilton
I must seem a miserable old geezer, with my refusal to join the general hubbub over Felipe Massa and Lewis Hamilton this year. It comes of being hasty in the past, placing too much hope in unproven drivers or teams and disillusionment after disappointment as a result. These days I’m slow to pass judgment, preferring to wait and see long after others have cast their votes.
Even so, my views on Massa are probably fairly obvious through various unguarded phrases and sentences in posts and comments. It has been Hamilton that I’ve been very careful about, watching and waiting to see how this season pans out. I want too much for him to be all that he is trumpeted as, the new British hope that will conquer the world, the one who will out-Schumacher Michael himself. Ever mindful of the crushing disappointments of former years, I hold my dreams close to my chest and put on the poker face.
But it is four races into the season now and Lewis has not put a foot wrong, in the car or out of it. If anyone ever looked a star on the rise, he is it. No-one, not even Michael Schumacher, broke the records for new arrivals as Lewis is doing.
So how good is he really? Never mind the pre-F1 resumÃ© – we have seen those become irrelevant too often in the past – it’s how he races that matters. And thus far he has been very impressive, swapping fastest McLaren laps with his illustrious teammate and taking the fight to Ferrari. In a rookie, that is almost unheard of. The lad can drive, there is no doubt of that.
The detractors point out that he has had the luck to begin his F1 career with a team that has just returned to greatness; which is true – most new drivers start out in the lesser teams and hope to be noticed by those that matter. But how many of them would do as well as Lewis has, given the same circumstances? It didn’t help Alex Zanardi (second attempt, admitedly) or Michael Andretti to be in a top team.
Luck is an important part of a champion’s success anyway; if Lewis has it, that is one more string to his bow. But he has made his own luck, making himself known to Ron Dennis at a very early stage in his career and winning in whatever formula came his way. Everything looks so carefully planned that the only element of luck seems to be that he was available at the moment when McLaren had secured the services of the world champion and were prepared to take a little bit of a chance on the second seat as a result.
Out of the car he is just as good too. He oozes confidence yet retains enough humility for us to warm to him. His statements stick to the McLaren line with precision, yet are delivered with a breezy smile and obvious enthusiasm for his job. In fact, he has been the model of the good team driver and hardly needs the protection from the media that Ron has given him.
So why am I still hedging my bets? Perhaps I am too cautious but I want to see how he behaves when circumstances turn against him. Yes, he has held off both Raikkonen and Massa when challenged for position; how will he fare when someone gets past him? What will he do when the car breaks underneath him three races in a row? How will he handle it if Alonso manages to gain the upper hand in the mid-season?
I suspect that he will sail through such tests with all flags flying. I just want to see it, that’s all…