There are times when you watch Lewis Hamilton drive a racing car when you think that no one has been better. Even in this golden era of F1 talent, with three other world champions on the grid plus the effervescent skills of Verstappen, Ricciardo and Bottas keeping Hamilton honest, Lewis’s mastery of the car and his rivals can be spellbinding.
At the British Grand Prix in July, watching trackside, this glorious talent was visible in every deft manipulation of his Mercedes-AMG F1 W08. But as with so many prodigal talents, there’s some Mr Hyde in Lewis. It emerges occasionally; a sulking, seemingly lost character who can spout words with an infuriating inelegance and make alarmingly contradictory decisions. You can probably guess where this editorial
Hamilton’s no-show at the F1 London Live event epitomises an often strange and enigmatic side to his character. About 50,000 people, made up of current and – more importantly – future fans, turned up to witness the glory of F1 cars in a spectacularly paradoxical setting, but Lewis took a holiday. Every other current F1 driver attended, creating a fever among the crowd that Liberty Media should bottle and analyse. This simultaneously vast and intimate event had it all, except of course the sport’s number 1 star.
I wonder how seriously Lewis considered the decision not to attend, or whether he sought counsel. If he did, then you wonder who is advising him. For who in their right mind would recommend that Lewis should jump on his private jet for a couple of days in Mykonos, rather than enjoy a one-off F1 fan event attended by 50,000 in a location just 32 miles from his birthplace? It’s not unreasonable to suggest that a huge percentage of those present turned up to see Lewis.
“Everyone had the right to make the decision for themselves,” Lewis was quoted by The Guardian. “I felt it’s been a pretty intense season so far and I felt it was the best way to prepare. The season is the most important thing for me. That’s it.
“I feel like I’ve said all I want to say. I think I do try to connect with the fans. I try to engage as much as I can. Fans mean everything. They always have.”
A few days later, Lewis cleaned up at the British Grand Prix – such was his dominance you tend to think he could have done it with one hand tied behind his back. Of course, we’ll never know what makes Lewis tick – which is why he’s a captivating, conflicted, other-worldly talent and therefore ultimately the sport’s only Grade A superstar.
Me? I think he’s on his way to becoming the greatest F1 driver of all time. In the time I’ve spent with him, he has been honest, funny and articulate. His legacy will be cemented by his fans, but it’s a relationship that could become brittle if, as a collective, they sense even a whiff of false sincerity.
In this column a couple of months ago I mentioned that I was about to embark on a season of racing, driving the ex-works 1964 MGB belonging to Ed Foster (formerly of this parish). As I write, I’ve just finished a round of the Equipe GTS series at Snetterton and look forward to travelling up to Oulton Park.
The Snetterton race was truly wonderful – and felt like racing as I want it to be. Ed had to pull out last minute, but kindly agreed to let me use the MGB on my own. I relished the chance of driving the car for the full 40-minute race and put lots of time and effort into learning (via YouTube) the Snetterton 300 circuit. Indeed, I became so obsessed with braking and apex points I thought little of how the hell I was going to run the car on my own for race day. At our first Silverstone test back in May, Ed and I shared the spannering duties in order to minimise errors and distribute the pressure evenly. Even with two pairs of eyes, long lists, detailed notes and various tyre pressure and fuel ‘strategies’ worked out in advance, we managed to forget to close the bonnet in one session (result – broken bonnet and smashed extinguisher and cut-off pulls) and, more worryingly, failed to secure a wheel for another session (result – a shiver of fear as we considered what could have been).
It was clear that we were rubbish at spannering with two people, so there was no chance I could handle it on my own. Equipe GTS organisers John Pearson and Rob Cull recommended Roy Gillingham – a noted historic car expert of chequeredflagclassics.co.uk. John and Rob also offered to help during the weekend with the various, and numerous duties that Lewis Hamilton never has to worry about. Like the location of the paddock showers. Or, more importantly, the toilets. Pre-race nerves are a unique condition, that’s for sure…
So it was with great anticipation that at 5am I loaded the MGB into a borrowed, and quite magnificent, Moetefindt trailer. Here I was, on my jack, off to a race meeting. Absurd as it sounds, a little bit of me dreamt of the Clarks or Hills or Mansells – loaded up with race cars and spares and off to a far-flung corner of the country to indulge in a deep passion for racing.
My tow car, a jet black Mercedes-Benz Marco Polo camper, and the Moetefindt trailer made quite a combination (and impression) as we arrived in the paddock. I realised I looked very much in the ‘all the gear, no idea’ category – confirmed by a woeful 30th position in qualifying (out of 38). However, I knew from testing that I had a lap time three seconds faster than my quali lap in me, and Roy – he’s quite brilliant – did a fantastic job of not only maintaining the MGB (which was flawless all weekend), but also motivating me. It worked. I finished 14th and overtook people as though I was in some kind of real-life Out Run video game with classic MGBs, TVRs and Healeys.
Red of face, I crossed the line having experienced the closest I’ve ever come to driving bliss.
Looking ahead, the plan is to compete in the Equipe Three Hour Classic relay on September 30 at Silverstone. This will be the UK’s only pre-66 long-distance race and utilises a handicap format – the aim being to level the playing field and create a tight finish. There’s also a multiple car and driver format – intended to spare machinery (both biological and mechanical). The entry includes some wonderful cars such as ex-works Marcoses, TVRs and Austin Healeys, plus curios such as a Peerless and a Tornado Talisman.
It’s one of those events that you almost don’t want to tell the world about, but it would be churlish to remain silent. So take a look at equipethreehourclassicrelay.com and, if you’re quick and have an eligible car (or two) there’s still time to enter.