Patience and priorities
SEPTEMBER 28, 2011
Interesting post-Singapore debate over Lewis Hamilton. Okay! Okay! Don't go away: I know we've been here before. Bear with me because I'm not necessarily referring to Hamilton's questionable incidents; it's the punishment handed down by race stewards advised, on this occasion, by ex-F1 driver Heinz-Harald Frentzen.
On Sunday, Hamilton tagged the back of Felipe Massa, these two seemingly joined at the wheel nuts this season following carbon-sharing moments at Monaco, Silverstone and oh-so-nearly Singapore during qualifying on Saturday. (Quite what Hamilton thought he was doing trying to pass Massa at the start of Q3 -one of the most high-concentration moments of the weekend - I'll never know. Hamilton's excuse: 'The guys try to back you up and I was ready to get going' says everything about an impetuosity which can be so engaging and damaging at the same time. And where was the management that cannot find space among just six cars on a 3.1-mile lap, even allowing for time being tight at this track?).
In the race, however, Lewis really did make contact, wrecking his nose cone and puncturing Massa's right-rear. They were fighting over fourth place and the incident did serious damage to the hopes of two drivers - particularly Massa - in serious need of a good result. By the time Massa had limped to the pits and rejoined, he was near the back of the field. Hamilton lost two places - and then several more when the stewards issued a drive-through for his trouble. It is this decision which has caused debate.
I was talking to Pat Symonds, Pat having seen his drivers suffer all manner of penalties, most notably Michael Schumacher during their Benetton days when Schuey either had the book thrown at him or got off with a slap on the wrist for an offense worthy of having his $1m sponsored cap removed for a year. Pat agreed about who was guilty on Sunday, but not necessarily with the penalty.
"It was Lewis's fault," says Symonds. "I would have expected him to lift out of that. It was a little bit more than a misjudgement; a little bit impetuous. But was the penalty correct? The penalty should be about what could happen; not what did happen. I can't help feel that if he had knocked his nose off and not punctured Massa's tyre, it might have been a different penalty. If that's the case, then that's wrong."
Interesting. I see it the other way. I would have thought that Massa's problem, inflicted by Hamilton, was precisely why Lewis received the drive-through. The fact that Hamilton also had to make a stop for a new nose is irrelevant. The argument is that he caused a problem for another competitor when - and this is the important bit - that incident could have been avoided. Of course, the fact that Hamilton keeps finding himself in these difficult positions when his team-mate is driving beautifully towards the podium is another question entirely.
A couple of other Singapore-related questions: Was the race too long? And should something be done about shuffling lapped cars to the back of the pack behind the Safety Car?
When the Grand Prix finished, I couldn't make up my mind whether or not I rated it as a 'good race'. It struck me that as a spectacle in unique surroundings under flood lights, this race is second to none. But once you have removed that factor and the inevitable street-circuit incidents from the equation, what are you left with? Had it not been for Jenson Button's brilliant on-the-limit charge, the last 12 laps would have been 12 laps too many. And argument for cutting the two-hour race by 20 minutes, perhaps?
And how much better would the race have been had the three back-markers separating Sebastian Vettel from Button been waved through before the restart on lap 34? By the time Vettel took the green flag, he was already four seconds ahead of the hapless Button. When Jenson finally untangled himself two laps later, the Red Bull was 10 seconds down the road. Game over!
The argument against is the time it would take to reorganise the pack, particularly over such a long and relatively slow lap. But would this not be better than ruling out a potentially intense scrap for the lead simply because seemingly endless televised laps starring the SLS AMG Mercedes Safety Car please no one but the marketing director of Daimler AG?
It's a question of priorities and being reasonably patient. Which brings us neatly back to Lewis Hamilton.
Maurice Hamilton , a freelance motor sport writer and broadcaster since 1977, is the author of more than twenty books and contributes to websites and magazines worldwide.
His weekly column for Grandprix.com was Highly Commended in the 2011 Newspress New Media Awards.