Formula 1 World Championship leader Lewis Hamilton admitted after his disastrous Japanese Grand Prix today that he had 'made a mistake and paid for it' – but he insisted he would be changing nothing in his seeming 'win-or-bust' approach to the final two races of the campaign.
With the pressure beginning to tell and performances that made them look more like subjects off Driving School
than F1 front-runners, both Hamilton and principal title rival Felipe Massa committed serious errors at Fuji, and with the Ferrari man having nicked the last marker from Red Bull Racing's Mark Webber just a handful of laps from home, the gap between the pair heading to the Chinese Grand Prix next weekend has come down from seven points to six.
Hamilton's race in fact unravelled right at the start, when he made a poor getaway and in attempting to compensate for it left his braking far too late into turn one, forcing fellow front row sitter Kimi Raikkonen almost off-track and badly flat-spotting his own tyres in the process. Only the previous day BMW-Sauber's Robert Kubica had accused his former friend of having been 'too aggressive' and 'dangerous' on a number of occasions already this year [see separate story – click here
Just a lap later, a mistake from Massa enabled the Briton to dive up the inside of the scarlet machine, but as the Brazilian kept his foot firmly in across the grass, he T-boned Hamilton on the exit, tipping the McLaren-Mercedes into a spin and down to the very rear of the field.
Both drivers would subsequently receive drive-through penalties for their respective misdemeanours, and Hamilton – unlike Massa – struggled to display any great pace thereafter, eventually coming home a lowly and point-less twelfth. Having stated pre-race that he had 'sacrificed so much more than I did last year' in 2008, he has now sacrificed rather more still.
“You can always look back and wish you did something else,” he reflected in a post-race moment of humility on ITV
, accepting the blame for his move on Raikkonen whilst suggesting that Massa had deserved a rather harsher punishment for his manoeuvre – in a climate in which many within the sport believe Ferrari all-too often get off more lightly than their rivals, particularly McLaren.
“I made a mistake and I paid for it. This sort of thing happens; you've just got to keep your head up and keep going.
“We (Hamilton and Massa) both got the same penalty, but I didn't hit anyone and he did. I guess that's just the name of the game.”
Though he had previously vowed to take things more conservatively from hereon in, Hamilton was also keen to point out that his objective in Shanghai and Interlagos remains the top step of the podium on both occasions – even if, in striving for a similar goal in China this time twelve months ago, he arguably destroyed his championship chances.
“I don't think it makes any difference,” the Stevenage-born star mused of Massa having reduced his advantage slightly in the chase for the crown. “I lost one point today, which I guess is damage limitation, and we'll move on to next week.
“We will still be just as competitive, and we're going to make sure we win the last two races – not at any cost, but we plan on winning.”