Lewis Hamilton has been 'manufactured' into the driver and person that he is now, claims former F1 World Champion Nigel Mansell – in a modern characteristic of the sport that the ex-Williams star describes as 'disappointing' and 'frightening'.
One of the prevalent trends in F1 today is that of teams snapping up drivers at an increasingly young age, and Hamilton is evidently one of the most pertinent examples of that practice, having been noticed by McLaren-Mercedes aged just twelve, and financially supported, nurtured and to all intents and purposes moulded by the Woking-based outfit into what he is now – a world champion at the highest level but also, as his various Australian escapades both this year and last went to show, something of a flawed character on a personal level.
McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh recently confessed that the 25-year-old had been something of 'an experiment' for the multiple title-winning concern, candidly acknowledging that 'most of his (Hamilton's) decisions were taken for him, in his life, in his career, in everything – it was a pretty artificial existence, and he had all the best equipment right through' [see separate story – click here
As a man who was forced to graft his way up the motorsport ladder, selling off the majority of his personal possessions along the way simply to be able to progress and ultimately go on to achieve his goal of F1 glory, British racing hero Mansell fears the growing predilection for signing up comparatively untried youngsters on long-term contracts can only be to the detriment of those who, like himself, have had to make it the hard way.
“I think sometimes it all becomes too easy,” the 1992 F1 World Champion is quoted as having said by the Press Association
. “People have said to me 'what do I think of Lewis Hamilton?' and I've said 'Well, it's fantastic what he's achieved, but he's been manufactured'.
“How many people from seven years of age have been given £2.5million to go karting? I know drivers now are being signed up at seven, eight, nine years of age. They're all being picked now, and this is the incredible thing that is so disappointing for me, to be grand prix drivers in five and seven and ten years' time.
“That negates everybody out there now doing the job, and that is frightening. I don't decry what Lewis has done; when he initially started having tough times he didn't handle it very well, but that's the first time ever in his life he's had a tough time.”
Mansell will next month make his debut in the iconic Le Mans 24 Hours round-the-clock sportscar classic in France, alongside his sons Greg and Leo, and he will be sure to add to the event something of which he claims F1 is currently badly in need – the entertainment factor.
“F1 has just lost a little bit of excitement, and the excitement is there when it rains,” lamented the 31-time grand prix-winner, statistically the most successful British F1 driver of all time. “I think it's wonderful that we're on full tanks again, [but] they need to take some safety systems away. If a driver makes a mistake, like we did in years gone by, you got penalised for it.”