Off the back of two consecutive accident-induced DNFs – one of which irrefutably of his own making, the other deemed a 'racing incident' – you might have reasonably expected Lewis Hamilton to play more of a percentage game at Suzuka this weekend as he bids to revive his F1 2010 title challenge. On the basis of opening practice, he isn't planning to.
Hamilton is the only one of the five contenders for the coveted crown to have tallied a blank scoresheet over the past two races, and as such he has slipped from the top of the points table to third heading into of this weekend's Japanese Grand Prix, exactly 20 markers adrift of Red Bull Racing's world championship leader Mark Webber, with 100 remaining up for grabs.
That being the case, many advised the McLaren-Mercedes star to adopt a more conservative approach to the upcoming grands prix, in the knowledge that one more mistake could spell the end of his hopes of lifting the laurels for the second time in his four-year career at the highest level. Lewis being Lewis, though, that was never really likely to happen.
If a hint came earlier this week when the Woking-based outfit's managing director Jonathan Neale described Hamilton as 'a force of nature, [who] given half an opportunity is going to race hard' [see separate story – click here
], then confirmation was served as soon as FP1 in Japan, as the 25-year-old suffered an 'off' at Degner 2, causing a hefty degree of damage to his MP4-25 and leaving himself on the back foot and playing catch-up right from the get-go. He was, he conceded, 'probably pushing too hard too soon' [see separate story – click here
“I could go and drive around and not overtake anyone and just stay in position,” he had mused on arrival at Suzuka. “That's easy enough but it's not me, so that definitely won't be happening. [Team-mate] Jenson Button and I are on the ragged edge trying to get more. If you're four tenths off, you want to try and make that just two tenths by finding another two tenths somewhere. How you do that is by going over-the-edge.
“It's difficult to say what to change. If you're walking down the street and you keep tripping over the sole of your shoe because it keeps flapping, then you change your shoe – but I haven't got anything that's flapping. You could say just don't bother overtaking, [but] then I might as well not race. I'm here to overtake; I love overtaking. If I had a quicker car I wouldn't have to do that, but it's not the case.
“It's easy for people to talk about being more careful, but when the lights go out, natural instinct takes over. As soon as you put blockers on all your natural reactions, something rotten happens. You can't think like that; you've got to go out there and get on with it, do what you do, be the man you are. There's going to be times when it doesn't work, but if you look at my record, it's pretty good.”
That much is undeniable, but there are those who hold that Hamilton would already be a two-time F1 World Champion but for his catastrophic Shanghai pit-lane error three years ago. Leading the Chinese Grand Prix but under pressure from the pursuing Kimi Raikkonen and on fast-degrading tyres, rather than letting his Ferrari rival past to preserve his rubber – given that he did not even need to beat the Finn in order to clinch the drivers' trophy – the Stevenage-born ace insisted on fighting it out, meaning that by the time he eventually stopped for a new set of boots, he had next-to-no grip left and slithered helplessly into the gravel trap and consequent retirement on the entry to the pits. He went on to miss out on glory that season by a single point.
Of course, Hamilton's slightly Gilles Villeneuve-esque, fearless, balls-out and über-aggressive on-track manner is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser, but it is indubitably not the ideal way to go about winning championships – and lest we forget, the legendary French-Canadian was never overly fussed about the title, only race victories, whereas Lewis palpably is.
His permanent all-out attack mode as he has on occasion over-driven the machinery at his disposal in an effort to make up for inferior equipment compared to his adversaries is laudable indeed, let's not be mistaken, but it would be a crying shame if the bravest, most spectacular and arguably best
driver of F1 2010 carelessly threw away his chances of claiming the sport's ultimate prize again this year by being too stubborn to moderate his style.
Previewing Suzuka, a clearly excited Hamilton had enthused about a 'special, amazing, raw, old-school' circuit that 'doesn't have tarmac run-off areas' and where 'if you put your wheel over the white line on some of them or touch the grass, you're off' – as he found out to his cost this morning. Too much more of that, you can't help but feel, and he may look back at the end of the campaign with just a tinge of regret that he didn't heed the warnings before it was too late.