McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton has endured a troubled year in F1, with car problems, girlfriend problems and track clashes
Anthony Hamilton steered his son Lewis as father, manager and mentor from karting through to a Formula One debut in 2007, when he was beaten to the championship by one point, and on into the following year, when he took the title by the same margin.
His role was not that of the traditional manager and it even caused some disquiet in the paddock – a forceful presence never far from his son’s side. Just one year later on the eve of the Bahrain Grand Prix, the first race of 2010, the driver announced his father would no longer manage him and that he would take on the role himself. The Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone has described the decision and the driver’s subsequent use of a management company as “a disaster”.
Perhaps it should not have been such a surprise that this hugely successful young man wished to be more in control of his destiny. He noted tellingly, after the split, that while growing up: “School felt like an escape. It was my time to mess about and have a kid’s life – to be normal.”
That season, the absence of a close professional and personal relationship seemed to have little ill-effect. He was in the fight for the championship at the final race in Abu Dhabi, where Sebastian Vettel claimed the win and the title. This year could not have been more different.
From the start, an off-the-pace McLaren did not augur well but speed was to prove the least of Hamilton’s problems. By the second meeting in Malaysia he had received his first drive-through penalty. There would be four more in a year during which he would be investigated by the stewards 14 times. Despite the win in China that followed, he was in trouble again at Monaco, clashing with Felipe Massa for the first time in a season during which the pair seemed unable to avoid one another on track, coming together on six occasions.
That he found himself regularly competing with Massa rather than at the front of the field must have been exasperating but when he was given two drive-throughs at Monaco his frustration was given voice. “Maybe it’s because I’m black. That’s what Ali G says,” he said in a flippant remark for which he later apologised.
More importantly, it was also clear that he felt he was being singled out: “It’s an absolute frickin’ joke. I’ve been to see the stewards five times out of six this season,” he said, as questions started to be asked about how well he was coping without his father. Hamilton signed with Simon Fuller’s XIX Entertainment management company in March, a decision initially welcomed by Anthony. But Fuller’s organisation played the more traditional behind-the-scenes role and besides the clashes, retirements and bad luck, he simply was not achieving the results on the track. Again frustration and clear dissatisfaction were the result when, before the British Grand Prix, with McLaren way off the pace, he complained volubly about the amount of sponsor-related work he was expected to do, and then in Canada where he arranged a private meeting with the Red Bull team principal, Christian Horner.
By the time F1 reached Singapore, the 14th race of the year, he had won only twice, had not been on the podium since the fifth race of the season in Spain and was being strongly outperformed by his team-mate, Jenson Button. Under the floodlights there was further contact with Massa, which earned another drive?through, after which his father, back in the paddock managing Paul di Resta, questioned Fuller’s role. “His management need to do more,” he urged.
At the Japanese Grand Prix, Hamilton dismissed as “rubbish” suggestions that he would benefit from having someone to talk to. “If I wanted to speak to anyone I would give my missus a call and speak to her,” he said. But things were falling apart off the track too. Visibly so in Korea. The joyously celebrated mid-season win in Germany had been a flamboyant victory and he drove brilliantly in Yeongam to take pole and fight off Mark Webber to hold second place in the race, but his reaction was resolutely stern. While insisting he was happy, his demeanour suggested otherwise and he commented tersely : “I’ve had the worst year, if you expect me to be all happy-doolally after a race like that you’re not going to hear it.”
Soon afterwards he admitted he had split from his girlfriend of four years, Nicole Scherzinger. An already tough season had been further complicated as he coped with another part of normal life, although, interestingly, he did admit: “I’ve my family who are helping, so I feel pretty good”.
How many of this season’s trials and tribulations can be attributed to management is debatable. Certainly a faster car would have made have a big difference but what Ecclestone described as “an uphill year” closed with a final win in Abu Dhabi before, by this season’s standards, the relatively serene exit of a gearbox problem and reconciliation with Massa in Brazil, from where he contemplated: “In future I will look back on this year and smile and say: ‘I needed that.’ I’ve grown up a lot this year and I want to take it into next year.'” Which may be a big one – it is the final year of his contract with McLaren and a new deal has yet to be signed.