Note to Hamilton: F1 puts the "I" in team

Wouldn't it be something if Lewis Hamilton lost the FIA Formula One World Drivers' Championship for a second successive year? He seems perfectly capable. His effort in Sunday's Grand Prix of Japan was a display of first-corner impatience ...

Wouldn't it be something if Lewis Hamilton lost the FIA Formula One World Drivers' Championship for a second successive year?

He seems perfectly capable.

His effort in Sunday's Grand Prix of Japan was a display of first-corner impatience indicative of something other than championship mettle. But, of course, Formula One is a team sport. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. Those moments when it is not a team sport explain Hamilton's first-turn accomplishment, a moment that cost him. It then cost him again when his chief title rival, Ferrari's Felipe Massa, duplicated the eagerness on the second lap and sent the Englishman to the back of a pack he failed to overhaul.

Only the wildest of expectations, that is, those held by the British populace, would expect someone with so little Formula One experience to have racked up a world title by now. This sophomore season might seem a dead cert to some -- and serious now to anyone watching his brilliance in the British Grand Prix. But nothing is written that Hamilton is destined or entitled to win.

He hasn't committed all the mistakes that find him five points ahead of Massa with two races left. His McLaren Mercedes team have been there for him with misjudgments such as tire choices.

But while Hamilton's errors have glared -- how about that crash into Kimi Raikkonen in the Canada pit lane, whooee -- they've had a match in Massa's Ferrari pit crew. Ferrari seems hell-bent on sending him into the side of a Force India VJM01. And what a head-shaking mess that Singapore race turned into. Race publicists were kind enough to supply statistics -- metrics, if you will -- that included this: Massa dragged that fuel hose 220 meters down the pit lane before he could pull to one side and await the Olympian sprints of his pit crew to rescue him. There's the real cost of winning world titles for you: That No. 1 pit lane ain't all it's cracked up to be. Massa's pit-lane fiasco is the kind of attention-getter that lets sliding into Hamilton in Japan go almost unnoticed.

If this Keystone Cops scenario plays out between McLaren and Ferrari, BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica, 12 points behind Hamilton, could scoop the driving title in the vein of current world driving champ Raikkonen last year. Remember how long it took the Finn to bag the title once he established himself as certainly worthy and undoubtedly quickest? Kubica as champion seems remote only because the quality of his steed, the F1.08, is suspect. Kubica is surely worthy. It could happen, though; it has been that weird a year.

As yet -- karting from a single-digit age notwithstanding -- Hamilton lacks the chops to be world champ. He's smug enough but being champion takes more. Like kart-reared Michael Schumacher before him, Hamilton has never had to race for his life every time he steps into the car as did racers of an earlier age. Despite being no respecter, Death has a way of focusing the mind. Formula One is still a dangerous sport, of course, but drivers these days enjoy a peculiar comfort zone: Crashes take a greater toll on their pride than anything else. Thus Hamilton harbors a carelessness, a costly carelessness. If a world title seemingly in his grasp slips away for a second time, he will have to consider that carelessness, that lack of focus, that will have cost him. He'll have only the man staring at him from the mirror -- and the magazine covers and the billboards and the television commercials -- to blame.

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About this article
Series General , Formula 1
Drivers Michael Schumacher , Kimi Raikkonen , Lewis Hamilton , Felipe Massa , Robert Kubica
Teams Sauber , Force India