‘Lewis Hamilton is a real racer’

2011-06-18 07:58

Love him or loathe him, there is nothing that stops Lewis Hamilton seizing Formula One’s headlines.

The McLaren ace remained in the news in Montreal with his aggressive driving style going under the microscope – and being cleared for purpose by the most important man of all, Bernie Ecclestone.

The sport’s commercial rights holder and long-time ring-master knows more than most about box office drivers and successful promotions and, more than anything else, he clearly wants to make sure F1’s biggest star stays in the sport.

As great champions like Niki Lauda and Emerson Fittipaldi appeared to be queuing up to criticise Hamilton for being dangerous and over-aggressive, just as many were lining for the defence with Michael Schumacher among them.

But nobody quite had the authority to articulate the universal truths that Ecclestone produced because, as a spokesperson for the ordinary fans, he knew what he – and they – wanted to see.

And he was not being paid by a television company to say so.

“I have seen a lot of drivers in my time, a lot of great drivers,” said Ecclestone.

“I have seen them come and seen them go. And I tell you, Lewis is one of the best.

“People pay to watch him. He is a racer. He is exciting and that’s what everyone wants.

That’s what people pay to see.

“Yes, of course, he is involved in some incidents, but if he wasn’t then he wouldn’t be a racer would he?”

Hamilton has been big news from his first day in the sport in 2007 when he stunned a huge crowd at Albert Park, Melbourne, finishing third on his debut for McLaren.

Accidents follow the racer around and Hamilton knows that – so his recent collisions with Felipe Massa of Ferrari and Pastor Maldonado of Williams, both in Monaco, and then Mark Webber of Red Bull and his McLaren team-mate Jenson Button are just par for the course.

“I would never want to hit another car or driver, but I love to race and to go the gaps,” said Hamilton.

“I can’t apologise for it. It’s racing.”

Ecclestone spoke out because he felt people were not understanding the real issues: Formula One is not about safety, but about taking risks.

“People have been wrong to rubbish Lewis.

What we want is people racing, and all the people who watch it want that.

If you analyse what’s been happening and how other drivers have been performing, Lewis shows up very well – and so do Sebastian (Vettel) and Jenson (Button).

“So let him race. That’s what people like him do.

I was very, very good friends with Ayrton Senna and if you look at what he did – he was a racer too and people had to move over for him.

“Perhaps Lewis has made one or two questionable moves, but so have many of the others – and nobody bothers to look what’s happening further down the field.

“It’s always been like this. We saw a lot of people racing in Canada on Sunday and Jenson did a super job didn’t he? That’s what the fans want to see.”

Many have put Hamilton’s recent spate of accidents down to his frustration at being beaten consistently by Vettel and Red Bull – and it is an argument that the 2008 world champion cannot contradict.

“Sure, I want to go faster and I want to win, but it is not as simple as that,” he said. “Yes, the Red Bull is obviously a fantastic car. But my real motivation is to beat them and not to have incidents happening.”

After his pointless exit on Sunday, Hamilton is now fourth in the title race and 76 points behind defending champion Vettel after seven of this year’s races.

But, contrary to many rumours and reports from Montreal where he spent half an hour with Red Bull team chief Christian Horner in private talks last weekend, Hamilton is not on the verge of quitting McLaren to replace Webber.

“No, that’s not what’s happening at all,” he said this week at Watkins Glen, in the United States, where he had a promotional engagement to swap cars with Nascar Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart.

“In terms of where I am, again I’m just very fortunate to be a part of McLaren.

“It’s one of the best teams there with great history and we’ve now got a car which is capable of winning, as my team-mate showed at the weekend.”

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