By Tom Cary, Formula One Correspondent, in Valencia
After being punted out of the European Grand Prix in Valencia with one lap remaining, he said a few measured words to the waiting TV and radio reporters, visited the stewards to give them his version of the collision with Williams’ Pastor Maldonado as they battled for third spot, and then snuck out of the circuit without performing the rest of his media duties.
Perhaps he was in a rush to get home for the England match. More likely, either he or his minders did not trust him to bite his tongue regarding the incident with the Venezuelan, which has allowed Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso to steal a huge march in the drivers’ championship.
Hamilton may not have hung on to third spot. His tyres were, in his own words, “gone”. But nor did he deserve to finish empty-handed. He had held the racing line heading into the right-hander at T12, with Maldonado exiting the track after a failed attempt to pass him on the outside.
But having effectively cut the corner, Maldonado came bustling back just as Hamilton swung left through T13, hitting the McLaren broadside and sending it spinning across the track and out of the race.
Clearly furious, Hamilton held both hands up in the air in exasperation before flinging his steering wheel out of the cockpit. This being the 2012 version, Hamilton had cooled down by the time he returned to the interview pen.
“I don’t really know what happened if I am honest,” Hamilton said diplomatically. “I went into the corner and I didn’t come out. I only remember sitting in the wall with only a couple of laps to go.
“I’ve had a bad day in the office but that’s motor racing. It does change a lot [in the world championship], we lost a lot of points today but fortunately for us a couple of the people we are fighting, like Sebastian [Vettel], weren’t able to score either so it’s not the be all and end all, but it does make things tougher.
“You put your heart and soul into some things and when you don’t get the result you feel you worked for it’s very tough, but that’s life.”
You can bet he was not quite so measured when speaking to the stewards.
Maldonado did his best to pin the blame on the Briton. “Lewis did not leave me any space,” protested the 27 year-old, who has impressed with his speed during his short time in Formula One but less so with his ability to avoid race incidents.
“When he was pushing me off the track the floor of my car caught the kerb and that is what caused me to jump into him. I think it would have been better if he had backed off a little bit and not driven so aggressively.”
The stewards were not buying it, handing Maldonado a 20-second penalty post-race which dropped him from 10th to 12th .
That will be of little consolation to Hamilton, who surrendered the lead of an enthralling championship to Alonso, and you have to say the Spaniard fully deserved it for his phenomenal consistency. Yesterday, incredibly, was Alonso’s 20th points finish in a row, all but two of them top-five.
This was the most impressive yet. Spain’s victory against France in the football on Saturday night, thanks to two goals from Xabi Alonso, was expected; Spain’s victory in yesterday’s grand prix, thanks to another Alonso, was not.
Valencia is not known for producing wacky races and it looked to be all over at the halfway stage. Vettel, Red Bull’s world champion, had made the perfect start from pole and carved out a 20-second lead over Lotus’ Romain Grosjean by lap 30. But the introduction of a safety car following a collision between Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne and Caterham’s Heikki Kovalainen turned the race on its head.
Vettel retired with an alternator failure on lap 35, and Alonso, who had battled his way through from 11th on grid, suddenly found himself in the lead. It looked for a while as if Grosjean might catch him, only for the Lotus to succumb to the same electrical gremlins as Vettel.
The partisan crowd were on their feet cheering, even more so when Alonso stopped on his victory lap with an unspecified “technical problem” and unfurled a Spanish flag in front of them.
Behind him Kimi Raikkonen took second place for Lotus, having caught and passed Hamilton whose collision with Maldonado handed third place to Michael Schumacher.
The seven-time world champion had started in 12th and survived a post-race stewards enquiry into his use of DRS. It was that sort of a race.
Jenson Button, meanwhile, said he was not displeased to have finished eighth, considering a disastrous start which saw him drop from ninth to 13th.
“I don’t think we did a bad job in terms of strategy, but I think a few people lucked into their strategies,” the embattled McLaren driver said.
“It’s still not a good result but I had fun out there, that’s the main thing, and the car felt good at some times in the race.”
The truth is Button was also hugely fortunate that so many drivers ahead of him either retired or fell backwards as a result of collisions. Either way, his championship hopes are looking dead and buried.
Not so Alonso, the king of consistency, who became the first driver to win two races this season, while Hamilton was left speechless.
He did say one interesting thing before he left though. “You never let people past,” he answered when asked if he should have left more room for Maldonado. “You have got to race for every position.” He may have been right.
Fans may love him for that attitude. The stewards may have backed him. But had he ceded position he would have at least 12 points more.
What would Alonso have done?
European Grand Prix result:
Alonso – Raikkonen – Schumacher – Webber – Hulkenberg – Rosberg – Di Resta – Button – Perez – Maldonado
F1 drivers’ world championship standings:
Alonso (111 points) – Webber (91 points) – Hamilton (88 points) – Vettel (85 points) – Rosberg (75 points) – Raikkonen (73 points) – Grosjean (53 points) – Button (49 points)