Gushing Hamilton lauds the crowds, and himself
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Gushing Hamilton lauds the crowds, and himself, after winning the British Grand Prix
He might be domiciled in Monte Carlo, spend his winters in Colorado and speak with an accent stranded somewhere over the mid-Atlantic, but for one weekend a year Lewis Hamilton is happy to be as British as his beloved pet bulldog.
From the moment he clambered halfway up a wire fence to salute 140,000 cheering disciples, to the podium speech in which he dedicated his victory to “you guys” at least 10 times, he wore the cloak of patriotism with aplomb.
It was tempting, as he elevated himself to the company of Jim Clark and Nigel Mansell with a third win in his home grand prix, to add Silverstone to his extensive portfolio of second homes.
Hamilton even admitted to shedding the odd tear on his final lap, as the last vestiges of a mid-race downpour gave way to a burst of sunshine and as the colossal crowds hollered their acclaim through the spray.
Lewis Hamilton celebrates his British Grand Prix victory at Silverstone. Picture/AP.
“I couldn’t have done it without you, I’m so elated,” he told them, voice quavering a little. “You can’t imagine how happy I am.”
This mercurial if magnificent driver is only ever gushingly happy or smoulderingly angry. There seldom seems to be any in-between state. Here, having soaked up the love from the grandstands, he was a study in glowing contentment, high-fiving the mechanics in the garage and giggling with Sebastian Vettel about the design of the trophy.
His reactions illuminated one side of an increasingly split personality. In Monaco six weeks earlier, Hamilton had barely been able to utter a word, such was his fury at the Mercedes brain trust who mistakenly ordered him in for a late pit-stop and scotched his chances of glory.
The fact that he mowed down a metal sign in parc ferme marked ‘3’ expressed everything about his attitude to finishing third rather than first.
Monaco, as he knew, bestowed an unrivalled prestige upon its winners. It also held a stronger claim than Silverstone, given that he had made his apartment on Avenue Princesse Grace his principal place of residence, to being his real home race.
Hamilton heralds his triumphs with gusto and his disappointments with a sullen fractiousness. Such, perhaps, is his natural deportment as a champion.
He is a joy to be around when everything flows in his favour and a nightmarish sulk whenever the slightest detail goes awry. It is the classic behaviour of a driver who, for all his diplomatic insistence that he is a consummate team player, none too secretly believes that it is all about him.
“We win together, we lose together,” Hamilton said, in the wake of the Monaco debacle. Seriously? It sounded yesterday as if he was only too prepared to reap the plaudits, ascribing his 38th career win more to his own brilliance - evident both in his searing pace on slick tyres and his astute decision to switch to intermediates just as the rain was starting to fall - than to the collective ingenuity of Mercedes.
“The rain came and I just lost temperature in my front tyres,” he said.
“It’s always trickier for the guy who’s out in the lead, because you’re the first one to get it and it’s questionable how much risk you take. But for the first time in my Formula One career, I made the perfectly right choice in coming in. I feel extremely happy about that.”
This was a textbook example of a technique known, in our social media age, as the humble brag, where Hamilton’s feigned modesty belied an invitation to marvel at his genius. Of this, there was plenty, as the world champion combined electrifying speed and clear strategic thinking to overhaul both Williams cars after they had bolted past him off the start.
He exhibited a mastery of every condition and every permutation that an inclement summer’s afternoon in Northamptonshire could throw at him. The race itself, never less than enthralling as the battle for ascendancy switched relentlessly between Williams and Mercedes in a succession of wheel-to-wheel duels, leapt instantly into the canon of Silverstone classics.
It might not have challenged the spectacle of 2008, when Hamilton produced a masterclass in the wet to rival the heroics of his idol Ayrton Senna at Donnington in 1993, but it captured the essence of his formidable driving intellect.
A more callow Hamilton might have buckled when Felipe Massa stole a march into the first corner, but the mature 2015 version was patient in asserting his supremacy. When his efforts at reeling in the Brazilian after a brief safety-car period came to nought, he exacted his revenge with a startling out-lap from a swift pit-stop.
If Hamilton is to clutch a third championship title come the autumn, he will reflect on this performance as one that crystallised all his best qualities.Equally, it was as a display that served as a compelling rebuff to the notion that Formula One, or at least the romantic idea of it, was dead.
If it was not enough that Star Wars creator George Lucas and Lindsey Vonn, poster girl of downhill skiing, brought the requisite paddock glamour, Hamilton and team-mate Nico Rosberg were forced into a fight that stood in stark contrast to their often sterile processions this season.
If the outcome of a Mercedes one-two looked routine, the manner of it was improbable.Bernie Ecclestone, as he assembled all the key players in the F1 circus for the national anthem, might have cared to consider that this grand prix had drawn the year’s largest gate in British sport.
While Ecclestone has trawled Bahrain and Azerbaijan for more petrodollars in soulless venues, he was given a glaring demonstration that the passions for the sport run no deeper than they do at home. Especially when Hamilton, blistering rubber in a series of celebratory doughnuts, keeps giving the people what they want.
-The Daily Telegraph·