The 2010 Australian GP weekend will not be one that Lewis Hamilton remembers fondly, after a run-in with the police and poor qualifying performance were compounded by a critical strategic error on race day that left the former world champion lamenting a bad call from his McLaren-Mercedes team that had undone what he described as ‘one of the drives of my life’.
From eleventh on the grid in Melbourne – scene of his maiden rostrum finish in the top flight on his grand prix debut three years ago, followed up by victory 12 months later – Hamilton made an excellent start and took advantage of some of the first corner chaos to end the opening lap eighth, despite suffering damage to the front wing endplate of his MP4-25 and a consequent loss of downforce from clipping the Ferrari of erstwhile team-mate Fernando Alonso in the first corner.
Far from serving to dim his pace, though, the 25-year-old proved to be extremely rapid throughout the race, and as he battled his way aggressively and energetically up the order he passed team-mate – and eventual winner – Jenson Button, opportunistically dived down the inside of Felipe Massa by following Mark Webber past the Brazilian, and then just one corner later got the Australian too.
Later still, Hamilton impressively went all the way around the outside of Mercedes Grand Prix rival Nico Rosberg and then wasted little time in latching onto the back of Robert Kubica in the Renault, but there his lightning progress would be arrested, as the Pole proved to be a tough nut to crack indeed.
After his team called him in for a new set of rubber, the eleven-time grand prix-winner went on to storm his way back into contention, dragging Webber along with him. With a handful of laps to go, the pair had caught the Kubica-Felipe Massa-Alonso scrap over the runner-up spot once again – but then as the Stevenage-born ace went to try and deprive Alonso of P4, disaster struck, as Webber left his braking too late and harpooned the McLaren, sending both cars into the gravel trap and leaving a distinctly unimpressed Hamilton to limp back on-track and take the chequered flag just sixth.
Somewhat preoccupied in the closing stages with the culprit responsible for having made the decision to pit him again mid-race – angrily asking on the radio “Whose call was it to bring me in?” as he diced with Alonso in front and Webber behind – it was a bad-tempered end to a bad weekend that saw Hamilton uncharacteristically lose his cool and that he will doubtless want to swiftly consign to the history books and move on from.
“I think I had probably one of the drives of my life,” he stated afterwards in a terse interview, adding when asked who made the call to pit mid-race ‘I don’t know – we’ll find out’. “Unfortunately, due to the strategy I was put further back. All I know is that my team are a brilliant bunch of guys and they usually get it spot-on, but the strategy was not right. Everyone else in front of me did one stop, and for some reason I did two. I guess things can’t always pan out right every time.
“It was disappointing to taken out by Mark Webber, but I hear he apologised for it after the race so I appreciate that. I’m happy with the job I did – I honestly drove my heart out today, the car felt good and I think I deserved better than what I ended up with.”
“Could Jenson and I have had a one-two? Maybe, yes, but you can’t say for sure. One thing I can say for sure, though, is that he drove a great race. Congratulations to him for an excellent first win for McLaren-Mercedes – it’s a good feeling! As for me, I’ll just keep fighting. It’s the only way I know.”
McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh conceded that the wrong call had probably been made on the tyre front, and that it had quite possibly deprived the Woking-based outfit of a one-two to rival Ferrari’s Bahrain result – but the Englishman did add that ‘those sort of conversations (as Hamilton’s well-aired radio complaints) can wait until after the race normally’ rather than washing dirty laundry in public, reasoning that ‘he’s a passionate fellow, he is someone who wants to win and he likes to express himself on the radio’.
“It was an exciting and disappointing day for Lewis to be frank,” he acknowledged. “His race was in real contrast to Jenson’s, but no less brilliant for it. After starting eleventh, he once again showed the grit, determination, passion and bravery that has made him one of the most exciting racing drivers in the world. In less than an hour this afternoon, I think it’s fair to say that he almost single-handedly debunked the much-touted recent theory that Formula 1 has become boring. On the contrary, he entertained millions of people around the world with a series of audacious and thrilling overtaking manoeuvres.
“We made the decision as a team to change the tyres and ultimately that disadvantaged him. The fact is that at the time, he was losing time behind Kubica, we could see and you could see graining on his rear left tyre and at that time [Michael] Schumacher had come in and shown purple, Webber had come in and shown purple. The belief was that probably the Option tyre wasn’t going to go to the end and the guys who had pitted were going over a second a lap quicker, so at the time we took the decision we believed and I personally believed it was the right call.
“In hindsight, you can now see how the race played out and it’s possible that we may have been better served by calling Lewis’ tyre strategy differently. The Ferraris didn’t stop, so if Lewis had stayed out and his tyres had been intact then he could have been second today. I think he would have got past Kubica, so if you want to take a negative spin on it, we could have had a one-two. Inevitably there’s a tinge of disappointment when you don’t get that, but overall we can’t be too disappointed.
“We are delighted to have won. It was a fantastic day for Jenson and we’re all very pleased with that, and we’re enormously encouraged by Lewis’ never-give-up attitude and his ever-exciting talent. We leave Albert Park hugely encouraged by the pace we were able to demonstrate, and head to Malaysia keen to maintain that momentum.”