"The scoreboard never lies, mate,” Mark Webber tells PRN Magazine. Looking at the scoreboard for the 2008 Formula One World Championship, the tally is Lewis Hamilton 98 points and Felipe Massa 97. “If Lewis has the most points at the end of the year he deserves the championship,” Webber says. “It never comes down to one race. Lewis and Felipe have both had some of the phenomenal drives, and Lewis has had some rough weekends just like Felipe.”
Out of the 18 races in 2008 Hamilton scored points in all but three of them while Massa was out of the points four times.Over the past two seasons Hamilton has earned more points, podiums and wins than any other current driver.
“We know that Lewis is a phenomenal talent with the way he has come in,” Webber affirms to PRN. “The way he operated last year in his first season against Fernando Alonso was very impressive. It is nice to have a good car, but you have to deliver with that car, and he has done that.” Hamilton’s rough weekends included making a mess of the start in Bahrain and then colliding with Fernando Alonso; the embarrassing shunt in Montreal when he didn’t see the red light at pit exit and rammed into Kimi Raikkonen; and his over ambitious attempt to regain the lead in the first corner in Japan that eventually resulted in no points after starting from the pole.
Balanced against that were his superb wins from pole in Australia, Germany and China, a popular victory at home in Britain, and the race every driver wants to win -- Monaco.
“You never stop learning,” says McLaren chief Ron Dennis. “It’s so easy to forget that his first season was a phenomenal one. Why shouldn’t this one be better? Is he going to get better? Yes, he is. “When you consider the first year performance of all the great drivers, they never came close to his first year performance. When you look at the second year performance of all the great drivers, none of them, as far as I know, had the sort of performance that he has now. He is still getting better. He will continue to get better through the rest of his career.” Williams’ technical director Sam Michael says that with many drivers you can only really recognize if they really have what it takes to make the grade in F1 in their third season. “One thing that I have seen is that between their first and second year you see a massive step,” he explains to PRN. “He goes through the first season, then he has all winter to think about all the things he did wrong. He takes a rest and comes back stronger in the second season.
“You see that on almost all drivers: a big step from year one to year two. Then you see another step, a smaller one, from year two to three, and then you know where the guy is.
“If someone is completely useless you can see it in year one, but it really takes you a couple years to see what a driver’s true ability is.”
It certainly took Felipe Massa more than a few seasons to prove that he is a top-line driver, and even guys like Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso, whose talent was obvious, took a couple of seasons to settle in. And then there are the elite few like Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher and Hamilton whose skill is blatantly obvious from the first time they climb into a F1 car. Senna did things in a Toleman far above what other drivers could achieve in a car of that caliber, as did Schumacher in his one-off in the Jordan when he made his F1 debut, and then in the early days of the rather uncompetitive Benetton.
Hamilton has had one of the best cars in the line-up in his two seasons (something you get the feeling some drivers are resentful of), but his second season was more difficult than the first. “I think this year I have made more mistakes,’ he said prior to the season ending Brazilian Grand Prix, “but I have arrived at the last race of the season with the same amount of points (advantage) as we had last season, so that says everything.”
Ironically, Hamilton had a seven point advantage prior to last year’s Brazilian Grand Prix and lost the championship by one point while this year he had a seven point advantage and won the title by a single point. How much better is Lewis now than a year ago?
“It’s just maturity,” Dennis tells PRN. “The statistics prove everything. He has more points accumulated since the beginning of last year than any other driver. But he understands now that you don’t just drive the car at all times to win the race, and that’s one of the many things that he has learned over the last year.
“He’s more mature, a better race driver, more tactical. But it’s no more than you would expect having had the experience of last year.”
One would have thought Hamilton had forgotten the championship-costing lessons he learned in 2007 (when he tried to win every race on every lap) when he attempted to regain lost positions all at the same time in the first corner in Japan this year.
Afterwards Hamilton and Dennis both said he is a racer and wouldn’t change his style. But perhaps that Fuji chaos gave Hamilton a deep down shock because he followed that up with very mature drives in China and Brazil.
McLaren Mercedes is on a roll now but, as that very team has proved, F1 is cyclical. One of these years Hamilton is going to have to have to deal with an uncompetitive McLaren, just like Senna, Mika Hakkinen and Raikkonen did. One day he will have to struggle with a recalcitrant car just like Schumacher did at Ferrari and Alonso at Renault.
Given Hamilton’s talent, we can assume he will win with a car that is far from perfect, just like those drivers did. But it will be interesting to see just how he copes with that new experience.
The scoreboard in 2007 showed Hamilton had four wins and eight podium finishes. In 2008, he had five wins and five podium finishes. Hamilton will be more mature, faster and an even more rounded driver in 2009. What will the scoreboard show at the end of next season?
What Does The Opposition Think?
The relationship between Ferrari and McLaren was far better in 2008 than in 2007, and it didn’t just have to do with the fact that the spy scandal between the two teams last year has been put to rest this year. It’s also due to Ferrari’s new team principal Stefano Domenicali who is, shall we say, more amiable that Jean Todt.
Domenicali was gracious in defeat after that thrilling last lap of the Brazilian Grand Prix in which Felipe Massa had the championship won only to lose it when Hamilton passed Timo Glock in the last corner. He went down to the McLaren garage and sought out Hamilton.
“I went there to congratulate with him because in the sport that is the way it has to be,” he said afterwards. “I went there, I did my job. I think it is correct. At the end of the day he won by one point and it means that he was better by one point. He is a World Champion. He lost last year by one point and next season we will see.”
Fernando Alonso, who also came within a point of winning the title last year, had mixed emotions about the winners this year. He was happy for Hamilton but not for McLaren with whom he parted on bitter terms after just one season.
“I told you many times that I have great respect to Lewis and we speak together,” Alonso says. “Last year was the same thing. We were in the drivers’ room -- we speak together and we had no problems. But I think I will always prefer any team other than McLaren to win.”
While Robert Kubica says certain moves Hamilton made in the Italian Grand Prix were dangerous, he has plenty of respect for his mate Lewis.
“Everybody should know my feelings about Lewis,” he says. “I was the first one to say that I would not be surprised if he won races before the start of last season.” Michael Schumacher told the BBC that Hamilton may be the one who breaks his record of seven World Championships.
“I really rate him for what he’s done in such a short time -- arriving just last year and competing with Alonso, and very often being quicker, speaks for itself,” Schumacher says.
But Hamilton isn’t aiming for Michael Schumacher’s plethora of records. “I don’t plan or try to reach any of his records,” he says. “It’s not something that really appeals to me. I love being in the car and winning.”
The Coolest Thing Ever
The whirlwind of celebrations and appearances for newly crowned World Champion Lewis Hamilton began after the Brazilian Grand Prix where he partied all night at a private club in Sao Paulo with his family, team, friends and girlfriend, Pussycat Doll pop singer Nicole Scherzinger. Lewis only had two glasses of champagne and drank water the rest of the night.
Then he headed back to England where he met with the entire staff at McLaren’s headquarters and attended several other functions. After that he flew to Stuttgart where 72,000 people turned out for Mercedes-Benz’ annual Stars & Cars celebration. “I don’t think it’s fully sunk in yet,” he told the crowd. “I just try to embrace it and be thankful for it. This week I’ve been trying to embrace the whole situation, because it really took so much out of me.
“I’ve not been going out much this year, keeping myself to myself, and it’s all paid off. I’m just very proud of our achievement. I’ve won many championships in my career, and it’s a similar feeling. It’s a great feeling of success, satisfaction. You work all year for that moment.”
For the first time Hamilton watched a replay of the final three tense laps in Brazil where he had the championship won, lost it when Sebastian Vettel and Timo Glock passed him, and then won it with seconds to go when he re-passed Glock.
“I haven’t wanted to see it because my heart was in my mouth enough at the time,” he said at the time, “so I knew what it was like. But it’s still exciting to watch it again. I’m sure everyone was on the edge of their seats, the same as me in the car.” McLaren’s always keeps the trophies its drivers win, and they get replicas. That was the “law” for all including favored sons Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost and Mika Hakkinen. So it’s a sign of just how big a soft spot Ron Dennis has for Lewis that the latter is allowed to keep some of his trophies.
“I made a deal with Ron that I would get to keep the ones from my first podium finish, my first win, my first Monaco win and my first championship,” Hamilton reveals, “so I’m happy with that.”
The other “trophy” Hamilton gets to keep all through 2009 is carrying the prestigious number 1 of the reigning World Champion.
“I can have number 1 on my car,” he enthuses, “and that is the coolest thing ever!”
Acknowledging Hamilton’s success, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth sent him following message: “I am delighted that you have succeeded in winning the F1 World Championship to become the youngest ever champion. I send you my warmest congratulations on your remarkable and historic achievement.”
Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown also congratulated the new champ: “I think the whole country is thrilled by his exceptional talent.”