Matters of moment, September 2008

Summer sensations

What a summer of sport: two of the finest tennis players ever put on one of the great Wimbledon finals; a British rider wins four stages of the Tour de France; an ageing golf legend valiantly bids for a dramatic Open Championship; MotoGP hits new heights with its favourite son winning an epic duel at Laguna Seca; and the young man on course to become Britain’s greatest ever Formula 1 racing driver goes from laughing stock to the pride of his nation on one rainy afternoon in Northamptonshire.

We’ve learnt a lot about Lewis Hamilton in the past couple of months. We’ve been reminded that, thankfully, he’s not perfect. His error of judgement in the Montréal pitlane was exactly that, as was his failure to admit it and just say sorry afterwards. There are echoes of both Senna and Schumacher in Hamilton, and these are not limited just to his driving.

But we’ve also learnt there’s real character behind the hype. Following scruffy displays at Magny-Cours and during qualifying at Silverstone, Hamilton reminded us all on race day how special he really is. As Nigel Roebuck writes this month, his British GP win rates as one of the greatest wet-weather victories ever. In just a season and a half, Hamilton has produced two drives in the rain, at Fuji and Silverstone, to rank with the best in history. Just think about that for a moment. He’s only just begun.

As for Hockenheim, his charge past the hapless Felipe Massa and old rival Nelson Piquet showed the ruthless streak that is the backbone of his fabulous talent. On days like these, he’s a joy to watch. The fans at Goodwood would agree, as ‘Lewis Sunday’ proved at the Festival of Speed. He deserved some stick for that pitlane crash, whether he likes it or not – but now he deserves our praise. As Hamilton forges on, there will be plenty more to savour, and sometimes he’ll get it wrong, too. But that’s OK. After all, who wants perfection?

Hamilton’s purple patch has saved F1 from being overshadowed by two other stories this past month. Firstly, the grubby ‘carry on’ being played out at the High Court. What is there left to say? We’re simply exasperated that the FIA president remains in power.

Secondly, the news that from 2010 the British Grand Prix will be held at Donington Park rather than Silverstone. Motor Sport has sympathy for Silverstone and wishes Donington every success with its plans to host the race. But we’ve been here before, with Brands Hatch in 1999, and this time if the contracted circuit isn’t ready to run the GP, there will be no going back to Silverstone – at least if you believe Bernie Ecclestone.

Last month, I wrote that the British GP has never been in a more precarious position.

I hope I’m wrong, believe me, I do – but right here, right now, I’ve heard nothing to convince me that this is no longer the case.

When news reached us of Nigel Mansell’s plans to test a Lola LMP1 at Estoril, we couldn’t help but smile. At 53 years old, with 31 Grand Prix wins, a world title, an Indycar title and nothing at all to prove, he just can’t leave it alone, can he?

Then when Rob Widdows filed his story from Portugal, we smiled again. This was supposed to be ‘nothing serious’, and talk of a racing return was premature, said the old lion. But Mansell had still called on Dunlop for its stickiest tyres at the end of the day, just to ‘show what he could do’. Low-key? Inconsequential? Just for fun? C’mon! This is Nigel Mansell we’re talking about. He still had to be quickest.
So was he? Turn to page 52 to find out…

Damien Smith