Frustrated Hamilton not the man for a crisis


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Spare a thought for Jock Clear, the Mercedes race engineer who was the point of contact between the team and Lewis Hamilton during the Spanish Grand Prix. His job, amongst others, was to try to keep the 2008 World Champion focused and happy in the car as he back-pedalled his way around the Circuit de Catalunya.

Hamilton started second. By the first corner he was down a place. A couple of turns later he was fourth. After the Red Bull and the Ferrari came past, the Lotus of Kimi Raikkonen followed. Then flew by, in no particular order, McLaren, Toro Rosso, Sauber, Force India and Williams, as Hamilton eventually slumped down to 12th position, more than a lap down on the race leader.

Yes, even the Williams – a fact Hamilton made a point of venting about to Clear over the radio. And soon after, when told to look after one of his tyres, the Brit sighed: "I can’t drive any slower!"

Those were just the messages which broadcasters chose to play. To be a fly on that pit wall…

In fairness to Hamilton, his relatively slow tour around Barcelona gave him every chance to appreciate the poetry of his poor performance. Williams - the team who couldn’t get either of their cars into the second part of qualifying, were able to fly by his car, one of two Mercedes on the front row of the grid, as soon as the racing began. If you were making a film of the problems the Silver Arrows have to address, that’s the move you’d use (perhaps along with former McLaren team-mate Jenson Button, having an even more miserable season, whizzing by).

Hamilton is a fine driver, and he was aware enough to realise that he would not have things his own way with Mercedes this term. But in a strange way, the difference between performance on Saturdays and Sundays must be harder to stomach than if the car were just off the pace all weekend long. As the saying goes, you can’t miss what you never had. Mercedes are giving their drivers a taste of the front, before it blisters away in marbles of ripped up rubber.

Their problem is simple enough to diagnose – they’re harder on their tyres than the other cars – but the treatment, on the showing of this Grand Prix, is considerably tougher.

"It was an experience that I don't really want to go through again," said Hamilton of his travails in Spain.

"Today I was doing absolutely everything the same as I did in Bahrain.

"But I had no grip, I couldn't push, and if I did, the tyre just went off immediately.

"I'm absolutely lost today. I don't know what went wrong."

Is Hamilton the man for a team enduring this kind of frustration?

In a year where understanding and managing tyres is everything, Hamilton is a relatively tyre-hungry driver in a particularly tyre-hungry car. Asking him to play a part in the solution is a bit like asking the barman to help the alcoholic’s recovery.

A frustrated Hamilton has been known to make rash decisions (admittedly, in amongst flashes of the brilliance that makes him such an alluring driver). In 2011, a disappointing year saw tangle after tangle with Felipe Massa in midfield. In 2012, McLaren’s inconsistency looked to be what triggered his departure from the team he looked destined to spend his career with.

That is not to criticise the move – only to point out Hamilton’s tendency to react when things are not going his way. As McLaren’s woes are proving, it might have been even worse for the Brit had he stayed.

And if the problems persist in this campaign and Hamilton’s patience is tested, it will certainly be a talking point for everyone in F1. Apart from, perhaps, Jock Clear, who by that time might fancy a holiday.

Mark Patterson -

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Lewis Hamilton (r) works his way backwards through the field

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