|Hamilton dedicated his latest GP win to his mother Carmen Lockhart who was celebrating her birthday weekend [GETTY]|
“From the moping and miserable version who appeared to endure every grand prix came the Hamilton we all recognised again: confident, optimistic – and smiling at last,” wrote journalist Kevin Eason in The Times after Lewis Hamilton raced to victory at the Abu Dhabi grand prix on Sunday.
It was Hamilton’s first victory in eight races and one that came when it was needed.
For it has not been an easy season for the British wonderkid who drove to World Championship glory in 2008 at the age of 22.
While Sebastian Vettel has rightfully received the plaudits for running away with the World Championship, it has been the twists and turns of Hamilton’s year that have made for the most thrilling story.
Despite an early win in China, Hamilton has been unable to get anywhere near Vettel and even his McLaren teammate Jenson Button moved ahead of him in the standings.
For the first time in his career, Hamilton found himself criticised, and not praised, for his gutsy driving. Crashes and controversy in Monaco and Montreal saw his reputation switch from golden boy to the man Nikki Lauda and Sir Sterling Moss criticised as dangerous and reckless.
Although Hamilton responded by saying only criticism from the late and great Ayrton Senna could affect him, it was easy to see the words cut him deeply.
Instead of making the headlines for passing the chequered flag first, Hamilton hit the back pages for poor driving decisions and emotional post-race outbursts.
Oh Father… Where art thou?
To make matters worse, his dip in form came when he no longer had the man who had managed him since he was eight by his side.
Hamilton parted with his former manager, and current father, Anthony Hamilton in 2010. While Antony moved on to become manager of Force India’s Paul di Resta, a number of F1 pundits cited his absent father as a reason behind Hamilton’s troubled season.
“Those of us who talk to Hamilton regularly had watched his mood darken week by week”
The Times’ Kevin Eason
“Those of us who talk to Hamilton regularly had watched his mood darken week by week,” wrote Eason.
Hamilton had started to carry a cloud of sadness around the F1 paddock with him and he did not seem to be just unhappy but almost indifferent.
In the week before the Abu Dhabi grand prix, and following a split with famous girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger, Hamilton told the press he was jealous of the ‘happy bubble’ of friends and family that teammate Jenson Button had around him. Hamilton admitted he was lonely and needed more support.
So, on Sunday, Hamilton fans would have been relieved to see their man with a smile on his face again.
Heart on his sleeve
Since reaching the dizzy, glamorous heights of Formula One, Hamilton has become adored worldwide for far more than just his daredevil driving.
“Hamilton’s most appealing attribute is that he wears his heart on his sleeve and he has looked in pain at each grand prix. Every Thursday evening before a race, a small group (of journalists) sits face to face with Hamilton. He could have ducked us many times but he did not. He answered questions and faced his demons,” writes Eason.
By facing his demons publicly, Lewis Hamilton has let us know exactly how he is feeling.
Win or lose, Hamilton has spoken this season with an honesty and maturity that has been refreshing and endearing. He has not tried to hide his emotions, he has made no effort to cover-up his fight with Felipe Massa or his envy of Jenson Button’s situation. Unlike many sportspeople, the PR filter is often left off.
And yet, Hamilton looked to have turned a corner in Abu Dhabi.
|Hamilton is likely to have learnt from a difficult and testing 2011 season [GALLO/GETTY]|
It appears that Hamilton has been quite clever at managing his own demons. Instead of letting them fester he has used the media to his advantage. He has used the media as a form of therapy, gently releasing the unhappiness that has plagued his season.
While drivers, such as Nigel Mansell and Michael Schumacher, are often associated with a steely resolve and a ‘nothing affects me’ attitude, Hamilton goes against the grain.
He is complex. He is emotionally insecure. He is affected by what happens off the track and about what others say about him. He needs his parents to be there for support. But at the same time he is one of the bravest F1 drivers the world has ever seen.
Sebastian Vettel has stormed to the World Championship this year but Lewis Hamilton’s battle has been the more thrilling one.
The DNFs and race wins, the crashes, the criticism, the controversy, the break-up, the rivalry with Button – this is what makes Formula One exciting to the public.
Without Lewis, this season would have ended with a whimper.
Instead Hamilton has invited us into his troubled mind and by doing this we all feel closer to him. He has done the sport as well as himself a lot of good by being so honest and admitting defeat.
In fact, by admitting defeat he may have found a way to achieve victory.
As Hamilton stood beaming on the podium at the Abu Dhabi grand prix, his passion for life and Formula One was clear for the world to see.
At that moment nothing he had said, or done, in the past mattered.
Joanna Tilley is a freelance journalist working with Al Jazeera on the Sport website. She has worked at Sky News, Sky Sports News, LBC Radio. Sportasylum.com, TNT Down Under and Wanderlust magazine. Follow her on Twitter (@joannatilley) or her website, sportjostyleeee.blogspot.com.
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