McLaren-Mercedes team principal Martin Whitmarsh has excused former F1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton for the British star's post-race outburst against the 'very poor strategy' that he felt he was saddled with in last weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang.
Having begun from the front row of the grid in Kuala Lumpur, Hamilton found his efforts immediately compromised when the fast-starting Lotus Renault GP of Nick Heidfeld swept right the way around the outside of him through Turn One.
Although, having leapfrogged the German in the opening round of pit visits, he then set off in pursuit of eventual race-winner Sebastian Vettel, when his tyres began to fade, so too did the 26-year-old's pace, and after ceding second place to team-mate Jenson Button due to a delay during his third stop, he was defending the final podium position when he was hit by Ferrari rival Fernando Alonso with ten laps to go.
The resultant damage to the floor of his MP4-26 left Hamilton to take the chequered flag just seventh, and he would subsequently find himself controversially demoted to eighth by FIA race stewards, who deemed that he had weaved across the track excessively in his efforts to keep Alonso behind him.
“It was a terrible race,” the 14-time grand prix-winner angrily railed after getting out of his car. “I tried my best – I started second and did everything I could to keep up. I had four pit-stops, but the tyres went off; we boxed (pitted) too early, then we had to box early again and all the time we were boxing before everyone else when I could have stayed out for a couple of laps more, and then the wrong tyres were put on – I had the 'Option' instead of the 'Prime'. For the last stint, I had an old 'Prime' which didn't last, and I had to pit. It was a very poor strategy, but there's nothing I can do.”
Whitmarsh, however, quickly forgave Hamilton's criticism, admitting he could understand his driver's frustrations and conceding: “Lewis said a few things straight after the race which were from his view in the cockpit. He's already smiling and laughing, and when he looks back and sees the full picture, I think he'll have a different opinion.”
The Englishman went on to argue that the 20-second penalty applied post-race was 'harsh', but whilst defending his own error as merely 'a normal racing incident', Alonso – who Hamilton had described as his 'nemesis' in the build-up to the race weekend [see separate story – click here
] – insisted his erstwhile team-mate had been 'very aggressive'.
“At 300km/h, he did some very aggressive moves with the steering wheel,” the Spaniard told AS
newspaper. “[The coming-together] was a normal racing incident. We are racing drivers; I would do the same thing tomorrow, while others make the decisions.”
Meanwhile, Hamilton's 73rd start for McLaren in Malaysia on Sunday made him officially the most loyal driver in F1 history in terms of the most races begun for just a single team. The previous record had been held by the late, great Jim Clark, who made 72 starts for Colin Chapman's Team Lotus between 1960 and the Scot's untimely death in 1968.
“It makes me feel very humble,” remarked the new record-holder. “I never saw Jim Clark race, but I know that he'll always be remembered as one of the greats and as a loyal Lotus driver. Loyalty's extremely important, and I'm proud to be mentioned in the same breath as him – it only gives me even more determination to bounce back stronger than ever [from Sepang].”