• I don’t think Lewis is here to make friends, says Whitmarsh
• Under-fire driver criticised after latest crash in Singapore
McLaren have stunned Formula One by welcoming back “the old Lewis Hamilton” after the accident-prone driver’s latest mishap, which ended his chances of winning the Singapore Grand Prix and was followed by an angry confrontation with his victim, Felipe Massa.
The McLaren team principal, Martin Whitmarsh, sounding rather like a too tolerant parent, dismissed the latest accident as “a racing incident” even though Hamilton was clearly at fault, adding: “I am likely to be very partisan.”
And in a comment that will perplex the many wise judges – such as Sir Jackie Stewart – who think that Hamilton should mend his ways, Whitmarsh said: “Lewis went through the last race [at Monza] desperately wanting to stay out of trouble, and he did. And, if we are honest, we were all then going to get on his case, saying where is the old Lewis. To an extent, I did. I said to him: ‘Great discipline but let’s get back’.
“We are at a point where there are now five races to go. We would like to get out there and attack those races. I don’t think Lewis is here to make friends. Go back over the last 20 years – any of these attacking, brave drivers do get under the skin of other drivers. If you look back on Ayrton [Senna], certainly as a young man, Ayrton never had an accident that was his fault.
“It was always someone else’s fault. He had massive self-belief and he got under the skin of many drivers. Michael [Schumacher] still is. Michael has never caused an accident. They are not here to make friends. I don’t think Lewis is here seeking to make enemies but a car in front of him is a car he has to get around and you don’t overtake a car without some risk.
“The car in front of him at that moment – it doesn’t matter who it is – is the enemy of the moment. Lewis will be upset but he is a resilient individual. He chose to walk away from a skirmish that could have been.”
With Whitmarsh smiling and saying boys will be boys, Hamilton’s agent absent from most races and his father professionally estranged, many people will want to know just who is looking after the 2008 champion.
The three-times champion Stewart said: “If Lewis is going to be a great driver he cannot have serial accidents. And none of the great drivers ever drove in that fashion. He has all the skills but somehow or other, he jumps out of gear, mentally.”
Hamilton’s team-mate, Jenson Button, is now second in the world championship and, arithmetically, is the only driver capable of stopping Sebastian Vettel. Is his form rattling Hamilton?
“I don’t know,” said Button. “I am definitely driving well at the moment. I am happy with the way I am driving and I am happy with the way that the car feels underneath me. I really do feel part of it, which gives you a lot more confidence.
“When I talk to Lewis, I don’t think he has changed the way he drives or anything. We are just closer on the grid. I got a good start and he got a bad one. The bad start put him back into the pack and on a street circuit you are going to take some risks.”
Did Button plan to give Hamilton a call to cheer him up? “To be fair, I wasn’t planning on it. We never talk away from the circuit. We have got each other’s numbers but we don’t really talk. It is not something I would expect him to do. When we finish our race we go away and spend time with people who really know us as a person and not just as a racing driver.
“When he gets back home I am sure he will have people around him who will pick him up. Even though he had the problem with the front-wing and the drive-through [penalty] he still did really well, was quick and got back to fifth.”
The trouble with Hamilton is that he does not have as many people around him as Button. And he also knows, having arrived at McLaren as a much-feted 13-year-old prodigy, that he is now the second most popular driver in the team.
Button is also likely to become the first team-mate to beat Hamilton in the world championship. With five races to go he leads Hamilton by 17 points and, on current form, is the superior driver.