Why was Lewis Hamilton's Hungarian Grand Prix his scruffiest race of 2015? Blame Ridley Scott and Matt Damon...
The librarian stared at me, blankly. I repeated the request. She checked again, then repeated: “There’s definitely no such publication, I’m afraid.”
I couldn’t believe it. I’d read about so many references to The Racing Drivers’ Book of Excuses in motorsport magazines that I was certain it was, y’know, an actual thing.
But a 12-year-old me found out that it was actually a mythical tome, the stuff of legend.
Since then, after covering racing for over 25 years, I’ve heard plenty of racing drivers’ excuses. And if I’d have written them all down, I could have written the book myself.
But I heard one this year that really raised my eyebrows, a bone fide ‘new entry’.
And, of all people, it was from the mouth of reigning Formula 1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton…
What really happened in Hungary?
The race around Budapest’s Hungaroring was undoubtedly Hamilton’s worst performance of an otherwise stellar season.
He had previously bossed the weekend, setting the fastest time in every practice session. After a huge qualifying performance, where he took pole position by over half a second, he made a poor start to Sunday’s race and then went off on the opening lap while battling his teammate Nico Rosberg.
He banged wheels with Felipe Nasr, and later collided with Daniel Ricciardo, for which he was penalized by race officials who judged him to cause an avoidable collision.
He trailed home sixth, his worst finish of the year.
At the time he explained it thus: “I just had a very bad day at the office.
"It was one of the worst races I think I've had, and I don't really have any explanation for it at the moment.”
The Martian was to blame
In a post-season interview with BBC Sport’s Lee McKenzie, broadcast over the Christmas period in its season review, Hamilton offered a quite bizarre reason to excuse such a scrappy performance that day…
“This is how the Sunday went: It was a really cool Sunday until the race started,” he revealed.
“The night before, I was invited by [legendary film director] Ridley Scott – he said ‘come by the shoot tomorrow morning’. I’m like ‘yes!’ – because he was filming, with Matt Damon, the last scene of The Martian.
“So I went to bed, tossing and turning, and didn’t sleep until like one o’clock and then I woke up at 4am. Time came at eight o’clock, or whatever it was, to leave the hotel. Went to Ridley and, at the time, they were set up for this last scene.
“He said, ‘Matt hasn’t come on yet, why don’t you sit where he is and act out his role?
“I’m getting nervous because this is Ridley Scott asking me to sit and act, and I don’t know what the hell I’m supposed to do, and finally Matt came and sat with Ridley and he’s saying ‘action!’ and I just honestly couldn’t believe it.
“So I just left there, went to the track, and I’m on this high for a minute. And then you start doing engineering [technical meetings and strategy briefings] and [I] started hitting a wall. And I wasn’t able to take a nap either, so I got in the car and those first couple of laps to the grid felt terrible.
“I was like ‘this is not good’. I knew it.
“I’ve now told you a story that I should have put in my book one day. But, anyways...”
Did he do the right thing?
Like Lewis says, this was a one-off chance-of-a-lifetime opportunity to see a Hollywood film being created in front of his eyes – I think we’d all like to see that. And the film studios at the Hungaroring are very close to the track itself.
But on the morning before the start of a Grand Prix?
Hamilton has had plenty of critics regarding his lifestyle, including his former boss at McLaren, Ron Dennis. But a fellow World Champion, the great Mario Andretti, recently defended him by saying: “I don't think the way he lives has an effect on his performance.”
Well, Mario, it seems it did that day.
And The Martian was apparently to blame…