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Hamilton's driving will end in 'someone getting killed'

14 June 2011

Niki Lauda has hit out at Lewis Hamilton's on-track aggression in F1 of late, arguing that the McLaren-Mercedes star is 'completely mad' and that his driving style 'will result in someone getting killed' – but David Coulthard has leapt to the 2008 world champion's defence.

In the past two races, Hamilton has tangled with no fewer than four of his rivals, sending both Felipe Massa and Pastor Maldonado crashing out-of-contention in Monaco just over a fortnight ago, tipping Mark Webber into a first corner spin in Montreal on Sunday and then – most calamitously of all – colliding with his own team-mate Jenson Button as he aimed for a gap early on in the Canadian Grand Prix that was not really there.

Throw into the mix a number of run-ins with FIA stewards and a spate of penalties for his manoeuvres – and his own insistence that 'I will never stop racing the way I do' [see separate story – click here] – and Lauda insists that unless serious sanctions are handed down, Hamilton's uncompromising approach to on-track battles will end up badly indeed.

“What Hamilton did there goes beyond all boundaries," the ever-outspoken three-time F1 World Champion asserted during his race commentary for German television station RTL. “He is completely mad. If the FIA does not punish him, I do not understand the world anymore. At some point, there has to be an end to all the jokes. You cannot drive like this – as it will result in someone getting killed.”

“I think Niki was being a bit hard on Lewis, but Niki is a man who should be listened too,” concurred fellow multiple title-winner Sir Jackie Stewart. “To finish first, you must finish and not be running into people all the time. He's having too many collisions with too many drivers, and he can't blame the stewards, because there is a different set at every race.

“I'm a great supporter of Lewis, but I think he's hiding under blinkers at the moment. You can't keep going for gaps that don't exist, and if he's blaming the car and the team, that's just unprofessional. No driver had the perfect car.”

“He's going a bit too far in some cases,” echoed British racing hero Sir Stirling Moss, who officially announced his retirement from racing at Le Mans last week. “He's a terrific driver, he's got great aggression and he's an exciting driver, which is important because it's a television sport now – but his handling of himself is not that good. His father is no longer his manager, which is a problem. If they could get together, it would be a good thing.”

Whilst Webber – who lost eight positions in the coming-together, arguably denying the Australian a chance to fight for victory around the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve – described Hamilton's move as 'a bit clumsy' and quipped that 'I think Lewis thought the chequered flag was in Turn Three', former McLaren ace and current BBC F1 commentator David Coulthard has for the second time in as many weeks gone against the general grain in backing his fellow Brit in his column for The Daily Telegraph, dismissing notions that Hamilton's driving has been 'reckless'.

“For the second race in a row, Lewis Hamilton finds both his racecraft and his temperament under review,” the Scot mused. “In many respects it is a shame, because Jenson Button's sensational victory in a frankly unforgettable grand prix should really take the headlines – but Lewis is box office, and when you have someone of the stature of Niki Lauda, a triple world champion, saying that he could 'kill someone' with his driving, then I can understand why it's a story.

“The first thing I want to stress is that Niki raced in an era when deaths were commonplace. Niki himself was read his last rites after a horrific crash at the Nürburgring in 1976, so if anyone is qualified to comment in the way he did, then it is him. What I would say, however, is that the world moves on. When Niki was racing in the 1970s, drivers would frequently give each other a full car's-width so as to minimise the possibility of a potentially fatal incident. Drivers these days are giving each other a cigarette paper's width. Accidents will happen.

“Lewis' first collision [in Canada] was with Mark Webber's Red Bull, almost immediately after the safety car came in at the end of lap four. He took a bit of a gamble going up the inside, slid ever-so-slightly going over the kerb and out-braked himself. Mark, who had generously given him room, at this point came back onto the apex, as he was entitled to do, and their cars touched.

“If anything, I would veer towards blaming Lewis, simply because – as is the case on any road – it is more the responsibility of the chasing car to make a safe overtaking manoeuvre as he has the better field of vision, but the stewards called it a 'racing incident', and I'm happy with that decision.

“Most controversial [was] the collision with Jenson on lap eight. Again, on the same basis as before, I would veer towards blaming Lewis as the chasing car. If you don't get your front wheels right up alongside the other driver's cockpit, with his limited field of vision through the 'letterbox' of his helmet, there is always a fair chance he won't see you. The wing mirrors do not angle out sideways, so there is a substantial blind spot. When conditions are as they were on Sunday, the risk of not being seen is redoubled.

“Lewis had the run on Jenson, was entitled to try the move, but didn't get up alongside him enough hence should have backed off. I don't profess to know what is on Lewis' mind or why he is getting into so many scrapes, [but] he does seem a bit distracted at present, certainly in contrast to his main rivals.

“I see he has been linked again with Red Bull [see separate story – click here]. Maybe a move away from McLaren is something he needs after literally growing up there over the last decade – a bit like when the kids finally move out – to drop the emotional baggage, both good and bad, which inevitably grows in every relationship. But do I think Lewis is a liability to other drivers? Not for one minute.”

“It's easy to knock someone when they're involved in a series of incidents, but it's why Lewis has so many fans around the world,” Coulthard added, in an interview with the BBC. “This is just a phase he's going through. He believes he's the best driver in the world, but right now McLaren are not able to give him a winning car, and he's getting frustrated. He wants to win, and that passion, that drive is what's causing him to get up-close-and-personal with other cars.”

Hamilton himself has similarly defended his driving, albeit now acknowledging that he was 'in the wrong place at the wrong time' in the incident with Button and opining that an easier way to 'stay out-of-trouble' in the future would be to start grands prix further up the grid. The 26-year-old began ninth in Monaco and fifth in Canada.

“He (Button) made a mistake into the last corner, so I got the run on him,” he recounted, speaking to the BBC. “I felt that I was halfway alongside him and he just kept moving across, whether or not he saw me, and I was in the wall. It was only the tyre that was busted, so I put the diff-lock on and I was going to drive it back to the garage but the team told me to retire. I thought that the suspension had gone, because that was what they told me, but it turns out it was not.

“You know what, I think you make your own luck. Onwards and upwards. Go to the next one and try to stay out-of-trouble. It would be great if we could qualify a little bit higher and try to avoid these sorts of situations, but that's the way it is.

“I feel very blessed to be here still in F1, fit, healthy and alive and still racing. There are many, many drivers that wish they could be in our position. Of course, you could always hope for things to be better, but good times do come to those who wait – so I'll just bide my time, and hope that at some stage it will be mine.”


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