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F1: Lewis-ing Control?

by Rob Dore | June 13, 2011

Hamilton chuffed with McLaren modifications

“My biggest error? Something that is to happen yet.” – Ayrton Senna.

When does the risk become unnecessary? Jenson Button displayed courage, determination, skill and a willingness to take risks as he stormed through the field to win one of the most exciting F1 races in years. He drove on the edge and was applauded for it. Rightly so. As the great Ayrton Senna said on many an occasion, if you’re not racing to win you’re not really racing. What about Lewis Hamilton though? Button’s team-mate was harshly rebuked by Nikki Lauda after the race for what the three-time champion felt were unnecessarily dangerous tactics:

“What Hamilton did there goes beyond all boundaries. He’s completely mad. If the FIA does not punish him, I do not understand the world any more. At some point there has to be an end to all the jokes. You cannot drive like this – as it will result in someone getting killed.”

Lauda wasn’t the only one but his warning is perhaps more significant than most. It was Lauda who protested about safety at the Nürburgring before the 1976 German GP. It was Lauda who was trapped inside his burning car after just two laps of that race. He was lucky to survive but the scars he carries now serve as a reminder of the need to be constantly vigilant when it comes to safety in this sport. However there is only so much the governing body, the teams and the individual tracks can do. Once the lights go green the responsibility lies squarely on the shoulders of each man behind the wheel. They have to decide where the edge is and how close they are prepared to get to it in order to be first past the chequered flag. The problem being that you can’t discover where the edge is until you go over it and once you do, there may be no coming back.

Nobody wants to see drivers parading around at comfortable speeds. Take away the risk and you take away the excitement of the sport. I guess the questioning I’m working towards is whether Lewis Hamilton is racing on the edge or racing recklessly. Is he trying to find the limit of his abilities or is he letting frustration turn him in to a liability to himself and his fellow drivers? My colleague Aidan did suggest that Hamilton is possibly angling for a move to Indy Car racing where they love a little bit of recklessness, if only because nearly half the tracks are little more than an oval.

Clearly this is nonsense but the fact that such theories are being formulated in the drink addled brains of F1 fans tells us that there is an awareness of the change in behaviour of the 2008 champion. As a defence to the criticism, Hamilton compared himself to Ayrton Senna, citing the Brazilian’s willingness take risks, to go for a gap no matter how small in order to win. Exactly what led to Ayrton Senna’s fatal crash in 1994 we may never know but the consensus is that it was a technical or mechanical failure, rather than driver error. So his death doesn’t exactly serve as a warning against dangerous driving but it does serve as a general warning of the precariousness of the sport as a whole. Senna did take a lot of risks though and many at the time thought they were unnecessary. Some of whom felt that after year’s of driving on the edge his luck had finally ran out. If he continues living by Senna’s creed, is it a matter of time before Hamilton’s does too?

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