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Lewis Hamilton nightmare goes on

The Bahrain Grand Prix turned into yet another self-imposed defeat for Lewis Hamilton — as was amply prefigured in the qualifying sessions.

Hamilton increasing resembles the nursery rhyme character who, “When she was good, she was very, very good. When she was bad, she was horrid”.

In Bahrain, Lewis Hamilton was horrid. What’s more he knows it.

Starting third on the grid, he appeared glued to it as other cars drove around him. Then he crashed into old antagonist Fernando Alonso in the Renault, before finishing out of the points in a dismal 13th place. There were strong suspicions that Alonso had brake-tested him, but the McLaren driver would not be drawn on that.

Felipe Massa, overcoming a barrage of criticism on his abilities, led a Ferrari one-two.

But Hamilton is the story yet again. Asked how disappointed he was, he replied, “It was a disaster. I let the team down today. It went badly from the beginning. As a professional you start off badly and you need to pick up the pieces and deliver points. I didn’t do any of that for the team.

“I had a collision with Fernando which cost the whole race. I am always the first to blame myself. That’s the right way to go.”

BMW now leads the Constructors’ Championship, continuing a very unpredictable season. Maybe Hamilton needs a spell in Max Mosley’s torture chamber.

Barcelona is next and could be make-or-break for the English driver.

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Lewis Hamilton shunts in Bahrain practice

Lewis Hamilton Lewis Hamilton crashed his McLaren into a tyre barrier at speed during today’s practice session for Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix.

Despite being shaken up he ended with the fourth-quickest time, almost 1.5 seconds down on Ferrari’s Felipe Massa.

Judging by these events, Massa looks to be the man to beat in the race proper. He has been criticized for not being able to handle the new rules on drivers’ aids in the cars.

His best lap time of one minute 31.240 seconds was said to be a whole second quicker than his pole position lap of a year ago.

World champion team-mate Kimi Raikkonen was almost a second down, with Heikki Kovalainen third in his McLaren, just edging Hamilton into fourth.

BMW Sauber’s Robert Kubica posted the fifth-best lap, followed by Nico Rosberg for Williams, David Coulthard in his Red Bull, the second Williams of Kazuki Nakajima, Toro Rosso’s Sebastien Bourdais and the Renault of Nelson Piquet.

Jenson Button was 11th in his Honda, with Super Aguri’s Anthony Davidson bringing up the rear over four seconds down.

You make your own luck, it’s said. Hamilton seems to swing from extremely fortunate to desperately unlucky. Given his car is very reliable, he needs to stabilize his performance now if he’s to live up to last season’s sensational start to his career.

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Same Old Ferrari

It seems to me that the knives are out at Ferrari already. After the Bahrain GP, technical director Mario Almondo was critical of Raikkonen’s race, suggesting that he work on starts and restarts; now Kimi has voiced doubts over the preparation of his car for qualifying.

Ron Kimi

Ron Dennis and Kimi Raikkonen

Back in October of last year, I wrote of the difficulties Kimi would experience in fitting into the Ferrari team; since then I have seen nothing to change my mind. Even before he joined, Ferrari were talking about getting their new driver to smile more often and to moderate his private life. As I pointed out at the time, this amounted to implied criticism of a guy who has nothing to prove in F1 – we all know he is one the three fastest drivers around.

And now Almondo finds reason to pick at Raikkonen’s performance in Bahrain and Kimi, stung at last to put his side of the story (very tactfully – he said “we” most of the time), hints that he may not be getting the same treatment as Massa in qualifying. It hardly speaks of a team that is together in their determination for the Finn to succeed this year.

The most telling point is that these guarded exchanges are being conducted in public. Ferrari have been quite open in their criticism of Raikkonen from the very start, while their enthusiasm for Massa has been evident, Todt springing to the Brazilian’s defense after his ham-fisted attempts to pass Hamilton in Malaysia. Kimi has held his tongue until this latest statement but the tension on his face has been plain to see – he knows he’s getting a raw deal.

I have no doubt that Kimi will struggle on through the season, working with what he is given and trying to show the team who they should be putting their major effort into. My point is really that he shouldn’t have to – Ferrari only handicap themselves by favoring one driver over another, particularly when the favorite is the slower of the two.

But that is Ferrari; they have their likes and dislikes and woe betide you if you turn up on the dislike side of the equation.

The photograph up there illustrates the difference between Ferrari and McLaren. Ron Dennis has his detractors but he is the best man manager of the lot (now that Eddie Jordan and Ken Tyrrell are no longer around). He believed in Kimi from the start and never stopped doing so, even if he wished that the Finn wouldn’t party so heartily.

Ferrari assured us that we would see Kimi smile this year – pardon me for pointing this out but it ain’t happened yet. And that looks like a huge grin on the Finn’s face in that photo above.

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Taking Stock After Bahrain

A motor race does not a season make, to mangle a phrase. Three races in and Lewis Hamilton is superhuman, Massa has gone from hero to zero and back again, and poor Alonso and Raikkonen are bidding to become the forgotten men.

Bahrain

The reality, of course, is a bit less dramatic than that – three of the drivers mentioned have had varying fortunes, one has not put a foot wrong as yet. As a result, we have a three-way tie for the lead of the championship with the fourth very close behind; which is great for the sport but nothing to get too excited about just yet.

It is true that Lewis Hamilton looks to be even better than we expected. He is quick, consistent and unflappable in the car, realistic and respectful out of it. It is hard to see how he could have made a better start to his career in F1 and all that we have seen so far points to his being a champion in the future.

But let us not get carried away – in two out of three races, Alonso has been the quicker McLaren driver and he is not going to despair because Lewis beat him in Bahrain. He will just work the harder to be fastest in future.

What is really impressive about the Alonso/Hamilton pairing is that I detect absolutely no needle between them at all. After the finish in Bahrain, Alonso went up to Hamilton to congratulate him and you could see he meant it. And Lewis continues to acknowledge that he is still learning and makes his respect for Alonso quite clear. For this year at least, they make a formidable team.

Things are a bit more complicated in the Ferrari team. Were there any justice in the world, this ought to be the year that Kimi Raikkonen walks away with the championship; he has served a hard apprenticeship, suffered more than his share of bad luck and demonstrated his speed again and again. Yet he finds himself with a teammate who wants to be number one and his old team suddenly come good with a car that performs as well as the Ferrari. Nothing comes easy for the Finn, it seems.

There is a new determination about Kimi this season, however, and it is no accident that he shares the championship lead with the McLaren drivers. In those races where Ferrari give him a car that can win, he will do so; in others he will take as many points as he can. Kimi wants the championship and no longer treats each race as a separate entity.

The roller coaster of Felipe Massa’s fortunes so far is indicative of his strengths and weaknesses. When things go well, Felipe can look unassailable; when they go badly, he tries too hard and makes mistakes. It has been said that Massa needs the support of his team to do well and it seems that he is getting it. Whether this means that Raikkonen receives that much less remains to be seen but I begin to suspect it.

So it is debatable that Ferrari are as well-knit a team this year as is McLaren and that could make all the difference at the end of the season if the championship remains close. Already McLaren have a lead in the constructors’ competition with a car that is not consistently as quick as the Ferrari – the difference is in the quality of the driving team.

If the champion this year is to be one of these four drivers, I think it has to be either Raikkonen or Alonso. Massa is too easily pressured into error and Hamilton has the patience to wait his turn. And, of the acknowledged “stars”, Alonso is the more likely winner since he is in the better team.

There is always the possibility that a wild card, perhaps in the shape of Nick Heidfeld, might be added to the mix, however. Now that would be really interesting…

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