Nick Heidfeld has questioned Lewis Hamilton's mental state and approach to the end of the 2008 Formula 1 World Championship, after a desperate late-braking lunge into the first corner of the Japanese Grand Prix at the weekend set off a chain of events that would ultimately see the Briton leave Fuji with no points in the bag.
Hamilton caused chaos at the start when he went too deep into turn one, locking up his wheels and sending his rivals scattering. Given that the McLaren-Mercedes star had vowed before the race to adopt a more conservative approach in light of his seven-point advantage in his title battle with Ferrari rival Felipe Massa, Heidfeld found the move rather injudicious, to say the least.
“I thought Hamilton would have learnt his lesson from last year,” the experienced German told Motorsports-Magazine
, alluding to the Stevenage-born ace having blown a 17-point lead over Massa's team-mate Kimi Raikkonen this time twelve months ago as nerves and ambition seemed to get the better of him.
“He was told by his team in the last race to go steady. As far as I can see from the action replay, the scrap on the first corner wasn't necessary. Hamilton didn't need to do that. McLaren and Ferrari have done themselves no favours.”
As to his own race in Japan – in which he briefly ran inside the points after having had to start all the way down in 16th on the grid, following his team's misguided tyre strategy in qualifying – Heidfeld had mixed feelings, pleased with his progress to finish inside the top ten at the chequered flag, but clearly keen to get back amongst the points-scorers again in the Chinese Grand Prix in a week's time.
“Compared to the Williams cars in front of me, my start was okay,” the 31-year-old related, “but the Hondas behind got off the grid even better. There was an awful lot of traffic in the first corner, and I was lucky to get through all the hassle.
“For me the nicest moment of the race was certainly when I managed to overtake two cars at the same time on lap four. I was on a one-stop strategy and, as well as that, the second-last one-stopper to pit. It was not easy to handle the heavy car. Now I'm looking forward to next weekend's race in Shanghai, where we should do better in qualifying.”
Acknowledging that 'the pace of the Renaults was very good' as the French manufacturer looks increasingly to have overtaken BMW-Sauber as F1's third force, Heidfeld's eighth-quickest lap time, just behind team-mate Robert Kubica, at least proved the man from Mönchengladbach had significantly more pace than he had been able to show the previous day in qualifying. BMW Motorsport Director Dr Mario Theissen underlined that his driver had done 'a good job'.
“Nick managed to move up to tenth with a one-stop-strategy,” added the Munich and Hinwil-based concern's technical director Willy Rampf, “but unfortunately, because of coming from 16th on the grid, more than this was not possible.”