SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, BELGIUM // On the track, Lewis Hamilton may be ready to fight for a second world championship title, but away from his Mercedes, he needs to "grow up", according to former friend turned Formula One rival Adrian Sutil.
The two drivers grew up racing together in F1’s junior formulae and enjoyed a close bond until 2011, when an incident in a Shanghai nightclub saw Sutil convicted of striking Lotus team co-owner Eric Lux in the neck with a champagne flute.
Hamilton, who had been present in the club, failed to appear as a court witness, instead submitting a written statement saying he did not see the incident. Sutil, who was given an 18-month suspended sentence and fined £167,000 (Dh955,886) for causing grievous bodily harm, branded the 2008 world champion “a coward”.
Thirty months after the Chinese incident, a frosty atmosphere remains between the two. While Sutil is a relatively reserved public figure, Hamilton is never far from the limelight, courtesy of his extravagant lifestyle.
Yesterday, Sutil was asked whether the two men had discussed the prospect of fame while growing up and whether the 2008 world champion’s personality had changed since they raced together in Formula Three.
The Force India driver replied: "He has his life and his idea of how he wants to be and I think he needs to grow up a little bit. I am not so in touch with him anymore.
“He is not able to speak – maybe he is scared of me, I don’t know. There is a time when people have to grow up and he hasn’t done it.”
When pressed on whether he thought Hamilton had been affected by growing up under intense media scrutiny, Sutil added: “Maybe. It is not easy for a young driver when you are very talented and then you break through into F1.
“You suddenly go from being not interesting to being at the top and everyone loves you. You get the best from everywhere, you have a lot of money suddenly and this all affects your life. You don’t have any real friends anymore; you don’t know what that means.”
Hamilton has been in an on-off relationship with pop star Nicole Scherzinger since 2007 and in recent years has embraced social media, posting photos of himself hanging out with several hip-hop stars.
Earlier this year, he bought his own plane and had it painted red, while also taking on the responsibility of a dog, Rosscoe, which has occasionally been seen in the F1 paddock.
Sutil added: “Hopefully, you wake up early and then you can sort out your life to be successful. Some people don’t get that.
“They never wake up; they have the wrong people and wrong friends. But there will be a time when they realise they did wrong and that life is not just about being rich and famous.
“These things are just a result, but you have to sort out all the elements of your life to be successful and happy. If you have only a lot of possessions and no friends, you will be a lonely and sad man.”
Hamilton and Sutil will both take part in today's two practice sessions ahead of Sunday's Belgian Grand Prix. Hamilton won the last race in Hungary and trails championship leader Sebastian Vettel by 48 points with nine races yet to be contested.