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DC: Hamilton was wrong, but at least he was honest

2 June 2011

In the wake of the vilification he has received in the media following his misguided 'Ali G' remark and indignant post-race criticism both of his rivals and FIA stewards in Monaco last weekend, Lewis Hamilton has been defended by former F1 star David Coulthard, who stresses that even though he was in the wrong, the 2008 world champion should not be knocked for being bold enough to speak his mind.

Hamilton's response that 'maybe it's because I'm black' when he was asked why he feels he is being singled out for particular victimisation by the stewards this season has opened up a whole can of worms, with the governing body now debating whether any further sanctions against the McLaren-Mercedes ace are necessary for bringing the sport into disrepute in insinuating – however light-heartedly – that there is an aspect of latent racism amongst the powers-that-be [see separate story – click here].

The 15-time grand prix-winner was palpably frustrated in Monte Carlo after being penalised for his aggressive overtaking manoeuvre on Ferrari's Felipe Massa, and he would later be further punished for the incident in which he tipped Williams rookie Pastor Maldonado unceremoniously out-of-contention in the closing stages of the race in the glamorous Principality – both collisions for which he was, and remains, adamant he was not at fault.

In an astonishing outburst, Hamilton labelled some of his adversaries – Messrs. Massa and Maldonado chief amongst them, no doubt – as 'absolutely frickin' ridiculous' and 'stupid', and lambasted the string of penalties that he has received from the stewards this year as 'a shambles' and 'an absolute joke' [see separate story – click here].

The 26-year-old has since apologised in private to the Monaco Grand Prix stewards and in public via his Twitter account to Massa and Maldonado and to his fans for his outspoken and controversial comments – and whilst not condoning the words that came out of his mouth and that have prompted such a furore, BBC F1 commentator and 13-time grand prix-winner Coulthard suggests that in an era of crushing political correctness and bland corporate soundbites, Hamilton's unusually forthright openness should be encouraged, not stifled.

“As someone who has been on both sides of the media/sportsman divide, I have sympathy for Lewis Hamilton,” the Scot wrote in his column for British newspaper The Daily Telegraph. “I know what it is like to have a frustrating race weekend. I know what it is like to be prodded and poked until you snap – and then when you do, I know what it is like to be criticised and publicly shamed. It is a peculiarly British obsession. We build our sports stars up to knock them down.

“All I can say is, you reap what you sow. Don't now expect Lewis to say anything interesting over the coming days, weeks or months. Do expect him to give a lot of one-word answers about front wings and KERS devices. I for one won't blame him.

“My view is that we in sport are all drinking from the same well. When times are good, they are good for everyone – the sportsman will give good, honest interviews because he trusts the journalists – and when they are bad, he should be able to expect some support and sympathy in return. In the world of Twitter and instant judgement, however, these relationships are dwindling. Perhaps there is no turning back.

“Of course, what Lewis said was not 'off-the-record'. It was in the public domain and as such could hardly be overlooked, but my feeling is that he should not be vilified for speaking his mind. Lewis made a mistake, yes; he knows that what he said overstepped the mark, certainly as far as his 'Ali G' joke was concerned. It was in poor taste, and he apologised for it. I don't believe he meant it seriously.

“As for whether F1 has any institutionalised racism, let's not even go there. Teams and drivers come from every walk of life. The FIA is a world governing body, not a bunch of rich, white men. The stewards change race-by-race and come from all sorts of countries and backgrounds.

“What Lewis said about his fellow drivers was less forgivable. By criticising them so openly, his popularity among his peers will inevitably decline – but again, he was angry and frustrated and he gave an honest answer. I said in my race commentary that McLaren should be applauded for allowing their drivers that privilege.

“Whether I feel he was at fault for the two incidents for which he was punished during the race – and I do – is neither here nor there. The drivers have repeatedly, consistently, asked for such race incidents to be punished, and the stewards must be allowed to apply the law as they see fit. If it looks like that might curb the drivers' enthusiasm to race wheel-to-wheel, then that is something they and the governing body need to look at together.

“Lewis may be hauled over the coals for giving his opinion, but at least he was honest. When he gave that interview, he had seen the race only through the prism of his race helmet. He had not seen replays, like the stewards or the fans at home had. Maybe having seen replays, he will change his mind and apologise to Felipe Massa and Pastor Maldonado.

“I know Martin Brundle said afterwards that Lewis tends to blame others for his mistakes, and I would agree with that. It is a part of his make-up that he could address, but I don't want to lecture him – he will learn in time. It is a cliché, but Lewis has grown up in a goldfish bowl.

“Remember when Jenson Button bought a yacht before he had won a race, and everyone called him a Big-Time Charlie? Now, having been through the low – and even lower – of his early career, he has bounced back superbly as a modern-day racing hero and all-round good guy.

“In any case, Lewis is not there to win any popularity contests. He is there to win races and, let's face it, he is a brilliant, attacking, aggressive driver – the kind of driver who gets bums out of seats, the kind of driver that we, as fans and media, are crying out for – so let's not be too hard on him when he makes an honest mistake.”


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