In an extraordinary twist, Lewis Hamiton has been labelled 'a dickhead' for having 'put people's lives at risk' with the 'over-exuberant driving' that brought the former F1 World Champion to the attention of Australian police on Friday evening – as Red Bull Racing rival Mark Webber waded into the row by calling his homeland 'a nanny state'.
Hamilton was stopped by police following free practice in Melbourne last week, for performing a smoky 'burn-out' in his new silver Mercedes sportscar not far from the city's Albert Park circuit [see separate story – click here
]. The 25-year-old McLaren-Mercedes star was admonished for his driving – for which he later issued a public apology – and had his car temporarily impounded, and will likely later face a fine for his actions.
Webber, though – like many F1 fans – has argued that the whole incident has been blown entirely out of proportion and if anything is an indictment of the world that we live in today, and the New South Wales native revealed that since returning Down Under from Europe for his home grand prix, he had spent much of his time 'dodging the ridiculous speeding and parking [rules] and all the nanny-state country that we have here in Australia' that 'pisses him off'.
“It's a great country,” the 33-year-old conceded, according to Melbourne newspaper The Age
, “but we've got to be responsible for our actions and it's certainly a bloody nanny-state when it comes to what we can do, as Lewis has found out very quickly. I think we've got to read an instruction booklet when we get out of bed as to what we can do and what we can't do, put a yellow vest on and all that sort of stuff. It's certainly changed since I left, and this isn't going to bring me back.”
However, Webber's comments have not been received well by the local authorities, particularly given the fact that an entire family was killed by a speeding car thief last week in his hometown of Queanbeyan near Canberra – and that five people were killed on Victoria roads over the weekend, meaning the annual death toll is currently on-course to be the highest it has been for five years, with 78 fatalities so far this year compared to 67 at the same stage in 2009.
The state government has recently launched a new road safety campaign bluntly entitled 'Don't be a dickhead' – and roads minister Tim Pallas suggests that is precisely what Hamilton was on Friday night.
“Okay, I'll say it – he's a dickhead,” he told radio station 3AW
“I think what Mark Webber has done has been totally irresponsible, but he didn't display the behaviour that Lewis Hamilton did, and that put people lives at risk.”
“We've got probably one of the best road safety records in the world, but every day we're getting a fatal,” added top Victoria traffic officer Deputy Commissioner Ken Lay, who contended that Webber and Hamilton should act as better role models for young drivers who perhaps look up to them given their public profile. “I make no apology for our approach in targeting aggressive driving.
“I think there are probably a few Lewis Hamilton and Mark Webber fans alive today because of our 'nanny-state' approach... I think Mark needs to take a bit of responsibility for the road safety message. I'd much prefer Mark to be talking about keeping the speeding and the hooning on the race track and being a bit sensible on our roads.”
Victoria Premier John Brumby has made a point of underlining that the rules are there for good reason to protect lives – what appears to sadly be at present a losing battle, and speaking to The Age
, transport accident commission minister Tim Holding concurred, reasoning: “I don't think anyone who has lost a loved one because of road trauma would think Victoria's anti-hoon laws are too harsh.”