The Ben Evans Column: F1 and tennis

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If there was any doubt before France that Lewis Hamilton’s F1 honeymoon was over there certainly isn’t now.

In a weekend where the McLaren team was subject to some extremely harsh penalties (why was Heikki Kovalainen penalised but not Kimi Raikkonen during qualifying?) Hamilton’s race was effectively over midway through the first lap.

Yes, a disaster, but in the scheme of a season worse things could and do happen. After all, in Canada had Hamilton hit Kubica Raikkonen would have another 20 points. And in France – Raikkonen lost two more thanks to a cracked exhaust.

What could have been a twenty point deficit to the Ferrari in reality was only an 8 point loss. Yes I know Felipe Massa is leading the championship, but Raikkonen is still the class act.

Post-event Hamilton was giving some very downbeat and vaguely accusatory ("you", "they") interviews that could have come from his former team-mates’ lips nine months earlier.

A bit of accusation, paranoia and misery is nothing new in our top flight racing drivers – Juan-Pablo Montoya, Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna, have all had their moments. But the transformation in Hamilton’s demeanour has been startling.

Not a month ago at the Monaco Grand Prix here was a young man in love with motorsport, who had boundless enthusiasm for racing, yet throughout the French Grand Prix weekend he seemed lost and disillusioned.

This I think is a great shame. Hamilton is one of F1 brightest talents of the past ten years, and amongst the new generation of drivers openly enjoys his driving more than most. Yet this year, he appears to be increasingly frustrated with the workings of F1 and the demands of being an F1 driver.

Worryingly Lewis is not the first of the current generation of top drivers be frustrated by F1 – Fernando Alonso was monumentally fed-up for most of last year and Kimi Raikkonen is already discussing early-retirement. Perhaps life at the top end of F1 is not all its cracked up to be?

I wonder if F1 over the next few years could go the way of tennis. By that I mean that the top talent comes to the peak of the sport at an ever younger age, burning brightly for a handful of seasons, before reaching a point of disillusionment or frustration with the sport and announcing retirement at a very early age.

Tennis this year has been rocked by the shock retirement of Justine Henin-Hardenne at the age of 24. How long before a top F1 driver quits at 24 or 25 after three or four years in the top flight?

From what I have seen in the paddocks over the past few years, there is a generation of drivers coming through the ranks who have never known anything beside motorsport. All they have ever done, and can remember doing is racing. Without a life outside racing it is very hard to put everything in perspective and this in conjunction with an adolescent mindset is a potent combination. It is therefore easy to see how some young drivers can become hugely pessimistic following a bad run of results.

Yes, Lewis Hamilton is not having a great season. Indeed this is probably his most trying since his debut year of Formula Three in 2004.

But that is all it is – a patchy season. Of course the media are going to exaggerate and analyse his every mistake. Big deal. Ahead of Silverstone, the McLaren team should be telling Lewis to chill out (Michael Schumacher always had unwinding post-race down to a fine art).

Heck if I were Ron Dennis, on Sunday night I would have dispatched Lewis to the company of an Xbox 360, a DVD player and a six-pack of beer and told him to forget about the weekend. After all there is always the next race, and the one after and the one after that.

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Ben Evans
Motorsport commentator Ben is RaceFans' resident bookworm. Look out for his verdict on the latest motor racing publications on Sundays....

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19 comments on “The Ben Evans Column: F1 and tennis”

  1. “…Of course the media are going to exaggerate and analyse his every mistake. Big deal…”

    Something interesting in the Hamilton affair with the media is that we never have this kind of massive coverage from de media not just in the Lewis´s case but in F1 in general.

    When Ron Dennis said something about the flow of information through internet last year I read some complains about Ron´s statement but he was right!

    I always have curiosity to see the Keith´s audience before and after Lewis debut and I´m sure that the numbers (if Keith had then) would show that Hamilton´s arise were good to everybody whom works with Formula 1, even to the Blogs, still a non main stream media.

  2. I didn’t trust last year the articles saying Lewis was so mature even being his first year in F1.

    And I don’t trust this year the articles saying Lewis is unable to manage his anxiety.

  3. -Hamilton is an overzealous F1 driver,who proved in Canada (pitlane incident)and in France (cutting the chicane)that there is still a very long way to go to be a mature and sucessful F1 driver.
    -Alot of English tabloid paper will start to portray Hamilton and McLaren as martyr….in order to explain any possible loss of one or both F1 championships!

  4. @ Fireblade
    Fully agree with you and i must say that it is just pathetic…

    Ben, Keith in his article(do not remember which one) has answered why Kimi got no penalty(the fact that he was blocking no one, ensured no penalty).

    Somebody’s got to sit down the kid and ask him to not take his press too seriously. The “you”/”they” statements are only confirmation of the fact that someone does live by his press. Also, i get the impression that he likes being a star(nothing against it), but, he wouldn’t be a star(not for long) if he doesn’t keep delivering.

    No matter what you say or anyone else says, it is hard to find people like Schumacher and his peers, who truly loved and were just as committed, to the sport. People like Alesi were just happy to sit in any darned car and go around and around. You just do not see that anymore.

  5. “No matter what you say or anyone else says, it is hard to find people like Schumacher and his peers, who truly loved and were just as committed, to the sport. People like Alesi were just happy to sit in any darned car and go around and around. You just do not see that anymore.”

    Interesting. I Remember that a saw from an onboard camera, Lewis cheering with his left hand just after made a pass on Nico. At that time Lewis was fighting for 17th position. If this isn´t mean that this guy love racing I don’t know what it is…

  6. I think it’s not the first time an Formula 1 driver is overexposed… Senna, in Brazil, had his private life frequently in the newspapers (Piquet suggesting he was gay, his romance with Xuxa, a TV star)… the difference is that, since his first day, Lewis was overexposed, and even Jacques Villeneuve, the other rookie in a top car, was already a champion in America before arriving, and therefore knew how to deal better with the press…

  7. This is indeed a good topic, as Hamilton’s sudden emergence has left him with nowhere to run from the cameras and mics- except to Switzerland! In any event, I can see some signs that the top talent in the sport may be leaving early, but I don’t know if that is a true black mark against the F1 establishment. I’ll be curious down the line to see if a driver like Kubica- who has a strong interest in rally driving- leaves after winning a title or two to race in that type of series. JPM, although not a title winner, seems to love the NASCAR life and is in no hurry to return to F1.

    Perhaps the most interesting possibility that I would have liked to have seen on this topic would be a driver like Bourdais, who has had championship success in other series, come into a top team in F1. How would an experienced driver like that fare if he were in the same spot as Lewis?

  8. Hammy will squeak out a win at Silverstone (although not gain the driver standings lead) and all will be forgiven…….he will be ‘the comeback kid’; the love fest will revive, etc ………. YAWN.

  9. I’ve often wondered if Lewis is a classic case of too much too soon, and if he might just fade away over the next two years. IMO, starting in F1 with a top team may have actually hindered him rather than helped him. It’ll be a shame if he loses his way, but it wouldn’t be the first time that a sportsman never lived up to initial expectation.

    He will probably get back on track mentally, but you never know. He’s under a hell of a lot of pressure.

  10. I’ve just seen Lewis at Brooklands. I’ve never seen a happier looking man. He was relaxed and smiling, taking his F1 car and the McLaren SLR for a spin a few times, as well as taking a lot of time out for the fans who thronged around his marquee shouting for him all day. He made sure he signed everything that was put in front of him (he signed both an autograph card and a hat for me) and did an unscheduled signing round to the apparent consternation of his “minders” who kept trying to pull him away despite him wanting to make his fans happy. What a load of rubbish people write – sure he’s unhappy with the negativity and outright lies written by the media but so would I be. I love the fact he’s shows his emotions and isn’t a boring monotone automaton like a lot of F1 drivers – I love the fact he shows his ecstasy at winning and his despair when losing. Give me a real, whole human being any day which is what Lewis is. His life is so busy nowadays; I don’t think he has time to be down in the dumps for long, except the media and people in stupid blogs string it out. In the course of one week, he’s been to a private lunch with Nelson Mandela, an A list dinner for Mandela’s 90th Birthday sitting beside Oprah Winfrey and Elton John, gave a moving presentation at the Mandela concert, been part of a sailing competition and was racing around at Brooklands. Maybe he is such demand because he has more personality than all the other F1 drivers put together!

  11. And I have to say, I find people who go on the internet (yours truly excepted) are quite often a bitter, unpleasant bunch, full of wide of the mark punditry and INCREDIBLE negativity. Seeing the fans today at Brooklands was so refreshing and wiped the rubbish of the forums away for a short moment.

  12. There is only one major problem I have with the comparison of average ages in F1 and pro tennis, and note that I cannot refute it:

    Driver’s aids have made the cars much easier to drive over the years, so shouldn’t it be -easier- to have a long career in the cars?

  13. her name is Justin Henin…

    Hardene was his husband :P they got divorced and since then she returned to her single name: Justin Henin xD

    just a stupid pointless correction :)

  14. Lewis and Mandela? Wow, that sounds like a really great conversation.

    “I spent 27 years in prison, what did you do?”

    “uh… I.. threw away a 27 point championship lead?”

  15. Rob R, nasty nasty.

  16. I think the reason why frustration is beginning to seep into the younger set in a big way is not the racing, but the stuff round it. As a general rule, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Alonso et al are in F1 because they are good at and like driving, not because they like and are good at marketing, media interviewing and psuedopolitics. In the last few years, I think the penny’s dropped as to how orientated F1 is towards activities they may or may not be genuinely interested in (but in the case of marketing and the media have to pretend to be interested). Also, the extent to which F1 selects on the basis of marketing has decreased in the last few years as the pay driver era has drawn to a close. There’s only so long someone can pretend to like an activity they’d rather not be doing, and keeping up the pretence can be really wearing.

    I don’t know if this is the explanation for tennis, or even if it’s a contributing factor.

  17. @Alianora

    An interesting point you make, especially in the light of the comment made by Raikkonen as soon as he traded Macca for Ferrari:
    “I’ve never been happier!”

    Not to flame me yet Macca fans, i’m only trying to point out, that most drivers just want to take fast cars really fast around the famous/infamous bends/circuits. This whole asking them to do stuff, for promotion, is neither everybody’s cup of tea, nor is to their liking. Kimi’s statement has to be seen in the light of the fact, that Ferrari leave him the hell alone with minimal promotional duties and not have him told to do this/that.

    Tennis: Well, i would rather hear it from the horse’s mouth.

  18. Alianora, nobody makes public appearance appear to be boring like stoic Kimi, who expresses all his emotions in the same dry tone of voice. I expect his reply of “I have never been happier” was said without the slightest hint of smile or inflection in his voice.

    You’re right though, the real heroes of F1 don’t get microphones placed in front of them when their cars place first, second, or third, and that’s actually the biggest difference in the tennis analogy. In motor racing, the performance is not 100% on the driver, although we never get to see the footage of engineers taking the motors apart, do we?

  19. Rob R, you wonder what Lewis and Mandela would have to talk about, well please see this link:

    It appears that Mr Mandela is an F1 fan, who requested a personal lunch with Lewis Hamilton. From the article and picture it seems they got on like a house on fire. Being both black, they have both experienced racism (and still experience it in Lewis’ case), and Senna was a particular favourite of Mandela’s because he spoke out against apartheid. That’s probably another reason why Lewis holds him in such esteem. I hope you are now clear that they probably had HEAPS to talk about.

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