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Hamilton: R&R key to German glory

26 July 2011

Lewis Hamilton has revealed that a welcome stint of rest and relaxation was pivotal to his triumph in last weekend's German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring – and now he is bidding to make it back-to-back victories by prevailing at the Hungaroring in five days' time, too.

In the build-up to his home race at Silverstone a fortnight earlier, Hamilton had chided McLaren-Mercedes for overburdening him with PR and sponsorship commitments away from the circuit that had left him tired and unable to train, focus or prepare properly for what really mattered – the British Grand Prix itself.

The upshot was that he could qualify only tenth and finish only fourth, and his employer, he had vowed, would get a 'shock' when it came to discussing that part of his workload in any new contract negotiations [see separate story – click here].

In-between that race and the following German Grand Prix, however, the British star found himself with time to chill out and recharge his batteries – and that, he contends, was vital to what he has described as one of the very finest performances of his career.

“I had so much energy this weekend,” the 26-year-old is quoted as having said by The Guardian. “People will laugh because I say I had a rest, but it is the truth. You have to have energy and be clear in the mind and have time to do your training. I trained twice last week, had good food and was massively positive all week, wasn't in the media anywhere, wasn't 'papped' anywhere. I was just focussed and came here with a fresh head and felt good – and then the car was with me.

“I have all my winners' tops for all my grand prix wins and the names of the grands prix written on the back of them. Years from now, I will be able to say I won this grand prix and that grand prix. I will remember this one like Silverstone, 2008.”

Hamilton's argument has been reinforced by 13-time grand prix-winner and current BBC F1 commentator David Coulthard, who agrees that the 2008 world champion and his team-mate and title-winning successor Jenson Button were perhaps being 'flogged too hard by McLaren's PR department and desperately needed a break'.

“They did not win much sympathy from the public,” the Scot reflected in his column for The Daily Telegraph. “There were plenty of comments along the lines of, 'I'd swap a few days a year taking sponsors on 'hot laps' around Brands Hatch for a few million quid in the bank'. It is a fair cop, and it is important to keep things in perspective. These are hugely privileged racing drivers – they are not out fighting wars or living in abject poverty – but when it comes to performing at the highest level, preparation is key.

“Flying to and from events – even on private jets as some of them do – sleeping in different hotels night-after-night, driving to and from tracks, smiling, shaking hands...it is not hard, but it is exhausting. It is not so much about what the drivers are doing, it is about what they are not doing – exercising, recovering, focussing on the next race.

“McLaren's drivers are hardest-hit in this respect, since McLaren have a different business model to the other top teams. It involves a few high-profile sponsors such as Vodafone, Hugo Boss and Johnnie Walker, who all have a specific number of days with the drivers written into their contracts. In many respects, it is good for Lewis that the equally marketable Jenson has arrived to shoulder some of the burden, because when it was him with Heikki Kovalainen, it did not take a genius to guess which driver the sponsor was going to want for their contracted time.

“Red Bull, by contrast, bought a team to market its brand and sell fizzy drinks. Other sponsors have since arrived, but essentially the team is its own advertising vehicle and the external demands on the drivers are far less than at McLaren.

“It is all about finding the right balance, because there is no doubt that mental and physical fatigue will cost a driver in terms of his performance. These are finely-tuned athletes we are talking about – believe me, they are supremely fit – and in a sport where hundredths of a second can make all the difference, they need every ounce of concentration they can get.

“It would not surprise me in the least if Lewis' time off last week to rest and train – he cancelled a sponsors' trip to India a fortnight ago to help him in this respect – had a major bearing on his sensational performance in Germany. We will never know for sure, just as we will never know whether Sebastian Vettel's unusually subdued performance was in some way linked to the additional demands he felt racing in front of his home crowd – the increased PR demands, media coverage, weight of expectation, family and friends in the crowd etcetera.

“I believe the last driver to win his home grand prix was Felipe Massa for Ferrari in São Paulo in 2008, so perhaps there is a direct link between PR demands and performance? It's one hypothesis, anyway.”

Coulthard went on to opine that with Red Bull Racing, McLaren and Ferrari all so evenly-matched at the Nürburgring, the German Grand Prix has 'brought the season to life once again' – and fresh off the back of his second victory of the F1 2011 campaign, Hamilton is palpably up for making it two-out-of-two in Hungary, even if he fully anticipates Vettel to bite back. The only stumbling-block, he fears, could be McLaren's performance in hot conditions.

“Sebastian has been massively consistent since last year, but you can't win them all,” he mused. “You can't get out of the right side of the bed every day. This was a small glitch over a long period. I have no doubts he will have some interesting comments made about him, but he still finished fourth and the rest had a slightly better weekend. He will be back, no doubt.

“We are good when the conditions are cool and wet. The McLaren has always been able to switch its tyres on; we are able to do it more than others. We might get to the next race and be massively off because we might overheat our tyres, [but] if the car behaves like it did this weekend, we will be there again. I have won in Hungary before – so I can do it again.”


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