Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 27 October 2020

For a man who champions tolerance Lewis Hamilton's attack on stewards in Sochi fell well short of his own standards

Outburst followed two five-second penalties for practicing his starts on the pitlane exit before last month's Russian Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton finished third in Sochi last month, behind race winner and Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas. EPA
Lewis Hamilton finished third in Sochi last month, behind race winner and Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas. EPA

There’s no good way of saying it as we look ahead to the Eifel Grand Prix on Sunday - Lewis Hamilton let himself and his sport down by attacking the stewards in Sochi.

For a man heading a campaign to promote acceptance, tolerance and equality his attitude fell far short of the standards he is clearly demanding of others.

The outburst followed two five-second penalties for practicing his starts on the pitlane exit before last month's Russian Grand Prix.

And doing it in the face of a dictat in the Race Directors Event Notes saying that specific action was banned on safety grounds (largely because that pit exit is particularly long and cars can top 130mph before they even hit the track).

Mercedes insisted the regulations were open to interpretation but their standpoint is risible. That no other team, and not one single driver did the same, demonstrates just how “vague” the rules were to everyone else.

Hamilton had clearly been the architect of his own misfortune. Having messed up one qualifying run he was forced to qualify on the wrong tyres.

So he was up against it even before the start in Russia and the double penalty was just the coup de gras. But labelling the stewards’ punishment as “ridiculous” and “excessive” and that they were trying to stop him winning? Some will argue that fresh out of the car his back would still be up, but I don’t buy that either.

You can’t claim to be a high speed, stone cold, nerveless ace decision-making winner one weekend and then expect to be let off the hook for some teenage over-reaction the next. At your local kart track, yes. After a decade and half of racing in F1? Definitely not.

Hamilton has lashed out at the stewards before, and once even played the race card in Monaco, before apologising, so he has previous.

Long time observers of Hamilton will know his usual modus operandi is to find something, or someone, to hate to motivate himself to a higher level of competitiveness. Them against us sort of thing. It could be a rival team, a driver, indeed the media. Or stewards.

He once railed at teammate Jenson Button for a perceived slight by ‘unfollowing’ him on Twitter. Laughing, Button denied it saying: “I know I haven’t because I never followed him in the first place.”

Decades past stewards were often deserving of censure. They were simply local motor sporting fat cats appointed on a grace and favour basis by the FIA hierarchy. These days they are far better trained and their number always includes an experienced racing driver, usually with F1 experience.

So there are ways to protest a punishment – and casting aspersions on the reputation of professionals trying to do their job is beneath contempt. Especially after so much winning (more than the rest of the entire grid over the last four years).

Shouldn’t there be a duty on someone who has done so much winning to lose with a little more class?

But then, I guess, that’s what makes him a winner. Hamilton’s dislike of defeat is what makes him a winner. For me that is perspective, not an excuse.

That said, Valtteri Bottas’ overdue victory in Sochi gives him the chance to take his title hopes off death row.

His record against Hamilton is dismal: nine wins to Hamilton’s 37 as teammates at Mercedes. No titles to Hamilton’s four. More damning, he has never won two races in a row at Mercedes.

Some would say he didn’t take the win from Hamilton in Sochi; Lewis was the one who let it drop. But Bottas had to be faultless to be there to collect – and he was.

I can’t pretend for a minute I believe he can make up a 44 point gap to Hamilton in seven races, but he must know the outcome of the 2021 season is already on the table too. So I have to say my heart leapt for joy when the mild-mannered Finn’s days as a supine No 2 appeared to be over, as he fired an expletive broadside at his critics as he roared over the finish line first in Sochi.

And if Hamilton’s hasn’t shaken off his Sochi blues then the Nurburgring is the time to make it count.

This weekend eyes will also be on Max Verstappen after Honda’s shock decision to quit the sport after 2021.

Whatever anyone at Red Bull says he will have an exit clause in his contract, which runs to 2024. So the future of Red Bull team and its lead driver will be in the melting pot. Right along with Valtteri Bottas.

Updated: October 8, 2020 08:03 AM

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