Why home hero Hamilton needs to fly at Silverstone 05 Jul 2011
In sport the greatest rewards - and sometimes failures - come to those willing to push the boundaries a touch more than the rest. And its these pioneers, stretching their own talent (and occasionally the rules) to their farthest reaches that make Formula One racing worth watching.
One of the brightest current trailblazers is McLarens Lewis Hamilton. Never one to choose the easy option, Hamiltons career has veered from peaks of achievement (see title-winning success in 2008) to despair-ridden troughs (see disqualification from the 2009 Australian Grand Prix) with staggering regularity.
Time and again Hamilton has shown that success and failure are the closest of bedfellows. And this season has been a case in point. From the disappointment of seeing McLaren thoroughly outclassed by Red Bull at the opening two rounds, to the heights of Aprils sensational victory in China clinched with just four laps to go, its already been a rollercoaster ride - and were only eight races in!
As the well-worn F1 adage goes, youre only as good as your last race, and Hamiltons success in Shanghai was quickly forgotten once Sebastian Vettel had reclaimed his thunder with a hat trick of wins in Turkey, Spain and Monaco. Indeed, the only glimmer of brightness for Hamilton was his strong second place behind the world champion at Mays Spanish race.
And then came that awful day in Monaco. A messy race saw him finish sixth after first receiving a drive-through for a clash with Ferraris Felipe Massa and then being penalized a second time after an incident with Williams Pastor Maldonado. Sticking up for himself in the post-race media scrum, Hamilton bemoaned what he perceived to be his victimization at the hands of the stewards, blasted his fellow drivers and declared himself happy to have raced his heart out.
Amidst the predictably heated aftermath, Hamiltons critics and supporters divided along uneven lines, with some voices rounding on him for what they perceived to have been arrogantly ill-judged overtaking moves, while others applauded the Briton for his racing spirit and reminded his detractors that in the heat of battle very little separates a clinical overtake from a clumsy one.
Regardless of who really had the moral high ground, after some reflection Hamilton wrote off the race as a bad day in the office and offered a wholehearted apology to the FIA, Massa and Maldonado. To make amends fully, he wanted to score victory at the follow-up round in Canada - a track at which he had already won twice.
But his hopes of third Canadian victory didnt just falter - they were crushed, with his bid for atonement nose-diving on the eighth lap as he crashed out whilst trying to make his way past team mate Jenson Button. To add a dash of salt to Hamiltons wounded pride, the McLaren clearly had enough pace to overhaul the Red Bulls as Button bounced back from the incident in spectacular style, sealing an unforgettable win and pushing Hamilton down to fourth in the standings.
Bruised but not broken, Hamilton offered warm-hearted congratulations to his team mate and refocused his attentions on the subsequent European race. If, as critics suggested, frustration had got the better of him in Monaco and Montreal, he was determined to keep a cool head come Valencia. But with his aggressive driving style - inspired by hero Ayrton Senna and honed over this early career - under fire, Hamilton, as thirsty as ever for success, seemed a man in conflict with himself. Should he err on the side of caution, even though it might mean settling for a podium or even just points? Or should he attempt to bounce back with a hell-for-leather win?
One thing everyone was convinced of was that a good grid position would simplify matters. Hamilton hadnt been on the front row since Aprils Malaysian Grand Prix, but hopes that an FIA clampdown on qualifying engine modes would cut Red Bulls Saturday advantage came to naught and he had to satisfy himself with third on the grid behind Vettel and team mate Mark Webber. A terrible start, compounded by uncharacteristically poor race pace and tyre issues for the McLaren, meant he could then do no better than fourth on the Sunday. True, the 12 points were a welcome relief after the Canada dry spell, but it wasnt the riposte to his critics that Hamilton was after.
So with his 2011 championship campaign faltering (a point he conceded then quickly denied in the hours after Valencia), Hamiltons home race couldnt be coming at a better time. Silverstone is a circuit on which he most definitely knows how to win - he took a memorable victory there during his championship-winning year, and also scored podiums in 2007 and 2010.
My victory at Silverstone was one of the sweetest and most satisfying moments of my entire Formula One career - and its a memory that I always carry with me, said the Briton reminiscing about his 2008 win. Standing on the top step of the podium, and looking across at the sea of flags and faces in the grandstands opposite was simply incredible.
Whether his 2011 luck will turn this weekend, whether the new ban on off-throttle diffuser blowing will upset the competition and whether the latest McLaren will allow him to match his previous Silverstone triumph is hard to predict. What is certain is that a supportive home crowd may be just the tonic Hamilton needs to get his title challenge back on track
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