Is McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton Imploding?
There’s never a shortage of back-stories in Formula One from industrial espionage to “Crashgate” and beyond. The buzz de jour around Formula One this season is that Hamilton is the new “Crash Kid”. His festival of shattered carbon fiber and foam boards he held at this past weekends Grand Prix of Belgium didn’t do him any favors to dispel that moniker. However, if you look at most of the greats, they too had their early learning curves. Usually that abates as they progress through the lower formulas.
The question is: What causes obviously super talented drivers to enter into extended periods of finding themselves in the scene of, rather than at, the accident? I think the answer has components that are emotional, both good and bad. Lewis Hamilton is a magnificent Formula One driver, that point no one can really argue. But what’s causing all these incidents he’s become embroiled in over the last few seasons?
He’s not flipping the switch. That’s right, there is a mental switch that you turn on before climbing into the car. That switch is designed to shut off or meter as much emotion as possible in order not to become distracted with situational interruptions. Those interruptions are other drivers fighting for the same space. Driving a racing car fast and racing a car against other drivers to a win are two totally different mindsets, but the two have to meld.
On a clear track Hamilton, and others before him, are almost impossible to define. They don’t make mistakes, they never put a wheel wrong and they turn in barn-burning laps. Put them out with a group of other like-minded drivers and it becomes a very different mental dance keeping emotional components such as anger out of the equation.
In British Formula Ford it’s almost expected that you’ll end up on your head, it’s a contact sport. Once you’ve left that environment you have to begin to carve away the negative emotions, as you move up in class, that inevitably exist in a sport such as auto racing.
Once you reach the Formula One level it should be second nature to flip the switch from being angry to merely having an object in your way that’s to be dispatched at the first opportunity. Far easier said than done, but that’s what ultimately makes the great ones great.
Contrary to that skill is NASCAR where it’s part of the game. 500 miles, full bodied cars and 36 race weekends in which to exact your revenge. In Formula One you can’t afford that luxury, you have one and a half hours to accomplish the mission. Holding a grudge while on track in Formula One always results in either contact between competitors or shunting the car for lack of concentration.
You don’t stop learning once you reach the Formula One level. Hamilton is racing mentally as if he were in a GP2 mindset. I read a comment from a fan that, and I’m paraphrasing here, that if Alonso had been given number one status at McLaren, then Hamilton would have legitimately learned from him. Instead, it’s alleged that Alonso was doing the constant set-up and development work and the Woking team was merely handing it over to Hamilton’s engineers. If that’s true, and I believe it to be, it means that the law of unintended consequences bit McLaren in the ass.
Instead of seasoning the young Hamilton, they let him convince them that he was ready to be the number one driver. Alonso is a two-time world champion, and he left the team after only one season. You have to wonder, why?
I have to concede that Lewis Hamilton is exciting to watch, but for him personally he needs to learn to use that mental switch more effectively. He needs to do it soon as he’s been in Formula One for four seasons, yes he’s a World Champion, but there are others in the field who are also World Champions.
Is he imploding? No, but he has to up his mental game.