McLaren-Mercedes team principal Martin Whitmarsh has urged Lewis Hamilton not to change his attacking style in the wake of his collision with team-mate Jenson Button in last weekend's Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal, with the race-winner similarly defending the 2008 F1 World Champion, who has come under fire from nearly all quarters.
A magnet for trouble and controversy of late, Hamilton has collided with no fewer than four separate rivals in the space of the last two grands prix, lambasted some of them as 'stupid' and 'absolutely frickin' ridiculous' and flirted with a six-race ban for suggesting – albeit light-heartedly – that he was perhaps being singled out for excessive discrimination and penalties by FIA stewards this year due to the colour of his skin. It has, all-told, been a lively past few weeks.
The biggest talking-point at the moment, of course, is the British star's contentious coming-together with Button around the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on Sunday, refusing to back out even as the gap he was aiming for was increasingly diminishing, and paying the price with his first DNF of the F1 2011 campaign.
Amidst growing concerns that he is struggling mentally to handle the frustrations of again not having a title-winning car at his disposal, three-time world champion Niki Lauda has argued that unless something is done to tame Hamilton's on-track aggression, 'it will result in someone getting killed' [see separate story – click here
] – but both Whitmarsh and Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Vice-President Norbert Haug have been quick to spring to their driver's defence.
“Lewis is always going to be a passionate race driver, he's always going to go for it – and it would be wrong of us to try and defuse that passion,” underlined Whitmarsh, according to The Guardian
. “He's clearly had an unfortunate run whether you look at it statistically or objectively, but I think he has to be the racer he is and I am sure he will be. Jenson didn't know he was there, and Lewis was trying to make good progress. There's no issue – they both see it the same way.
“I suspect I'm not the most impartial – I want Lewis to attack, and obviously I don't want him to have contact with cars – but at the same time, if he holds back for fear of having contact, then he won't be the great racer he is and do the job he has to do. I'm sure he'll continue to be a very tough racer and have many successes ahead in his career.”
“I understand Lewis perfectly and I will defend him,” concurred Haug. “He is a great driver, a friend and I do not share the criticism that is on him. There are difficult times you have to go through, but he will deliver. He is one of the great guys in the field. Of course he gets a lot of criticism, but this will only make him stronger. We will support him, and he will recover.”
Button, similarly, has spoken up in support of Hamilton, dismissing suggestions that his countryman drives in a reckless or unsportsmanlike manner and stressing that there is no ill-feeling between the pair following their unfortunate Canadian contretemps
“I don't agree with what Niki has said,” the 31-year-old told Press Association
. “I think his (Hamilton's) driving style is aggressive, and he always goes for gaps. Sometimes he's right, sometimes he's not, but it's the same for all of us. He just finds himself in that situation more often than others.
“Lewis is a character, one that F1 obviously loves. He's in the headlines a lot because he is bloody good. He's a racer, a fighter and that is the reason why I wanted to be here, against and with a driver who is super-talented, one of the best drivers F1 has ever seen. You can't really change as a driver. It's good challenging him on the circuit. We have a lot of respect for each other, we've raced each other a lot this year and last year and [Montreal aside] we've never touched. We've always given each other room. For me, that's a great position to be in.
“Obviously, I'm very sorry I collided with Lewis. We spoke about it, and it's one of those things. I didn't know he was there. He went for a move [and] we collided, which is sad for both of us. Initially, it played on my mind because you never want to crash with your team-mate – it's the worst thing to do – but we spoke about it, and he was very good actually. He was one of the first people to congratulate me after the race, which was really nice to see.”