Will Gray

Gray Matter: Is Hamilton hard done by?

Will Gray

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Lewis Hamilton's recent pop at the F1 stewards
could put him in hot water when the sport reconvenes in Canada next week - but
what has he done wrong and what can he do to make amends?

The 26-year-old Briton's post-race
interview in Monaco put his attitude under the spotlight, not only for his
controversial 'Ali G' comment but perhaps more importantly for his criticism of
the stewards and of his fellow drivers.

On a weekend that Hamilton felt gave him
a good chance of victory, he was forced to start from 10th because
of a mistake in qualifying, which he blamed on the team, and then his battle
through the pack on race day was deemed to be over-aggressive, with not one but
two drive-through penalties handed out for moves on Felipe Massa at the hairpin
and Pastor Maldonado at Sainte Devote.

After the race he argued that Massa
"turned into me and I got the penalty" then added on the Maldonado
incident: "you can see on the screen he turned in a good car length too early
to stop me from overtaking him."

Hamilton also highlighted the fact he
has been called to see the stewards quite regularly this year. So what has he
been doing wrong?

In race one, in Australia, he was one of
three drivers warned for getting in the way of other cars in qualifying, then
in Malaysia he had a 20-second penalty for weaving. In Spain, he was one of
four drivers penalised for ignoring waved yellow flags, and in Monaco he was
given the two penalties for two separate incidents.

In truth, Hamilton has little to
complain about in any of the incidents before Monaco, but did he have a case
for those that occurred on the narrow streets of the principality?

Hamilton's previous penalties were not for
overtaking moves, but in Monaco things were a little different. "You can't
overtake here and very, very rarely do you get an opportunity," he said
afterwards, by way of explanation.

Hamilton is known as an aggressive
overtaker and this year's new rules have given him more opportunity to show his
skills, with DRS and KERS leading to more moves. In Monaco, the new overtaking
tools were not expected to work that well - but early race moves from several
drivers proved they did have the potential to open up small opportunities.

Sainte Devote, the first corner, became
the focus and Hamilton had two key overtaking incidents there - yet the clean
pass on Michael Schumacher early on has drawn limited comment compared to the
collision with Maldonado later in the race.

Looking back on videos of both
incidents, both defending drivers appear to turn in at a similar time. The
difference was, in the Schumacher move Hamilton made it stick because
Schumacher saw him coming and had the skill to fight hard but fair, ultimately
giving space and losing a place but avoiding a collision - and given he was on
fading tyres, he knew his number was up soon in any case. In contrast, the less
experienced Maldonado was fighting for what would have been big points for his
Williams team and admitted he did not see Hamilton coming.

In fact, in neither case was the move
truly 'on'. Hamilton came from a long way back to make each move and he was
nowhere near alongside either driver when he made the pass. Had he collided
with Schumacher, he would possibly have been flagged even sooner.

As for the move on Massa, it was another
ambitious lunge in a typically tough place to overtake - and again it was one
that had been seeded by an earlier incident.

On lap one, Schumacher had passed Hamilton
at the hairpin when the McLaren driver was caught napping. In the latter
incident, however, Massa was well aware of where Hamilton was, and quite
understandably was not expecting him to make a move from so far back. Given
that it's full extended lock on an F1 car there, they were lucky they both
managed to get round the corner, with Hamilton having to scrape round the
hairpin stuck to the side of the Ferrari.

It is interesting to see that drivers
these days are using the pits-to-car radio to make pointed statements during
the race, knowing full well the stewards are listening to every word. In
Hamilton's case, he could not have been any more blunt on the Massa incident.
"I went up the inside and he turned in on me," he said. "That was on purpose."

Massa disagreed, as did Maldonado on his
later incident. But after the race Williams technical director Sam Michael was
one of few to describe the Maldonado move as "a racing incident."

Scotsman Allan McNish, who drove for
Toyota in 2002 and has no previous with Hamilton, was the "F1 expert" on the
panel - and to most observers he called it right. Hamilton was over aggressive,
and he got punished for it. Both times.

It's all part of the tension and
pressure these drivers experience - just look at golden boy newcomer Paul di
Resta for comparison. His race was, like Hamilton's, rather over aggressive
and, like Hamilton, he was penalised. But in contrast, afterwards he admitted: "I
have to hold my hands up for this accident because I was probably a bit too

In Hamilton's controversial post-race
interview, however, there was no way he was stepping down.

"People want to see overtaking and you
get done for trying to overtake, trying to put on a show," he complained. "Fair
play, if I really feel I've just gone too late and hit someone I'll put my hand
up. But this is not the case."

His subsequent apology on twitter, a day
later, also stopped short of altering this view, so he clearly still believes
he was in the right.

Ultimately, it was great to hear a
driver saying something meaningful and exciting but it is Hamilton's stubborn
refusal to hold his hands up that will rile with his fellow drivers and,
possibly, with the governing body...

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