Sir Jackie Stewart has expressed his opinion that the criticism levelled at 2008 F1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton this year is the product of other drivers having been 'woken up' by his on-track skills and aggression – as Red Bull Racing rival Mark Webber insists there is no 'witch hunt' going on.
Some of Hamilton's moves – most notably the cross-track weaving that characterised the McLaren-Mercedes star's robust defence against feisty young Renault rookie Vitaly Petrov in Malaysia, his pit-lane clash with Webber's team-mate Sebastian Vettel last time out in China that earned him a reprimand from race stewards and a separate incident that sent the Australian himself grass-bound upon the release from the safety car in Shanghai – have generated a degree of controversy in the paddock.
Williams veteran Rubens Barrichello – the most experienced driver in F1 history – contended that had he been in Petrov's place in Sepang, he would have given Hamilton 'some bollocking' for his actions, whilst former team-mate and double world champion Fernando Alonso has warned the Briton that should he fail to tone down his forceful approach, 'there will be penalties' [see separate story – click here
Webber, however, is adamant that there is no vendetta against Hamilton, explaining that drivers merely want clarification from governing body the FIA regarding what is and what is not acceptable, to make sure that everybody is singing from the same hymn sheet in future.
“We've had two events where we raced against each other pretty hard – Melbourne and China – and it's just the way it's been,” the New South Wales native told the BBC
. “In Melbourne particularly, we spent a lot of the race together and it ended in contact, with both of us trying to get past Alonso's Ferrari at the same corner and it didn't work out. Fortunately, we both got a few points in the end.
“There was some contact on the re-start in Shanghai, but looking back, it was very slippery, my team-mate Sebastian was also down the inside of Lewis and you don't have to make much contact in those conditions to put someone outside the circuit – and that's what happened with me.
“I don't like to be hitting people; I like to race hard and fair, but it's just been a coincidence – I might not see him for six months. The situation surrounding Lewis' driving in Malaysia was handled very well at the [next] race in China. There's absolutely nothing against Lewis. Hand on heart, the way it was handled was, 'this is what we think is right, this is what we think is wrong'.
“It's not a witch hunt against anyone. If anyone had driven like that, there would have been some questions asked. It's totally fair to do that. In the end it was nipped in the bud. Lewis is fine with it and we move on.”
Stewart, for his part, reckons Hamilton's on-track exuberance has upset some other drivers simply because it has roused them from their comfortable slumber and inertia and shifted the emphasis from passing in the pit-stops to overtaking on the circuit.
“He has woken up a lot of drivers with his skills,” the triple F1 World Champion told British newspaper the Daily Mirror
. “I don't think he is dangerous. He has got a lot of enthusiasm, but he has to realise that can induce judgements you otherwise might not make. That is part of the maturing process.”