Driving on to destiny


Last updated at 22:23 05 October 2007

Lewis Hamilton should be counting down to the biggest race of his life, not only with monastic

teetotalism but relaxed concentration, thinking that an hour and a half of clean driving and

mechanical good fortune will deliver the world championship.

But, tonight, as he closes his

eyes and dreams for perhaps

the last time of his all-consuming

ambition, his preparations

are beset by controversy.

Lewis Hamilton

He spent yesterday evening

with the stewards explaining

away his 'erratic' driving in the

last race in Japan, with photographers

and TV cameramen

pressing their lenses against the

window of the room where he

made his case.

He sat next to the drivers who

crashed out in the Fuji rain, Sebastian

Vettel and Mark Webber. Then,

when their stories had been told

and after shaking hands with Vettel,

he and McLaren team manager

Dave Ryan argued why he had been

braking to milk-float speed behind

the safety car.

Hamilton watched the footage on

the screen and spoke in his defence.

He won the day and takes his

12-point lead over Fernando Alonso

into tomorrow's storm-threatened

Chinese Grand Prix.

If he beats his team-mate, the title

is his. Even if he is fifth yet only a

point behind the Spaniard, he wins.

The odds are good.

But, just as the 22-year-old rookie

was forced to defend himself in

front of the stewards, the very

worth of motor racing's loftiest

throne was called into question.

Spygate, the saga built on

McLaren being privy to Ferrari

technical secrets, resulted in the

British team being fined £50million.

It also sparked the argument of

why, if McLaren were thrown out of

the constructors' championship,

the drivers were allowed to race on.

Ferrari president Luca de Montezemolo

claimed a Hamilton title

would be tainted. Hamilton argued

not, saying: "No. I came from the

GP2 season, finally given my opportunity

in F1 with the team I had

always dreamed of being with. I

finally got here and I knew the guys

so well and was confident in their

abilities. For the last 15 years,

watching Formula One, there has

been no need for them ever to

cheat. I've seen how hard people

work. I have no need to cheat. I'm

not going to win the world championship

because my car is much

quicker than the Ferraris.

"We've had some tough battles and we've done a better job with

reliability. Some races the Ferraris

have won; some races we've

bounced back and beaten them. If

we'd cheated we'd have won every

race. I've come to Shanghai and I

don't think 'Shoot, we've been

accused of cheating'. I come here

knowing that the car has been put

together by an honest group of guys

working their arses off.

"And when I got here I know I had

prepared to do the best job I can.

It's easy to do my job given the way

I feel about it. There's nothing anyone

can do or say to change the way

I feel about the issue, so it doesn't


Hamilton's near blind faith is perhaps

less well-founded than the

strident assertion, made with logicality,

that the drivers should be

expelled. Or else, the argument

goes, they are profiting from the

same ill-gotten gains as the team.

But let's not dwell on that unduly

now. The real measure of Hamilton's

achievement is that he is taking Alonso on in the same car.

Alonso, after all, is the man who

outperformed Michael Schumacher

in 2006 and 2007.

That is a mighty accolade as he

comes to the brink of ending

Britain's 11-year wait to reclaim the

prize Damon Hill won in 1996. He

appears supremely calm. Has he

woken in the night and sat bolt

upright at the magnitude of his task?

"No, I really haven't," he said. "I've

been just as relaxed as last week. I

don't know why that is. I don't have

an answer. I'm just not worried.

"My preparation will be the same

as in the last race. It was the best

race I have ever done in my life. And

considering that I've only been out

in the rain in a Formula One car a

few times, I even surprised myself.

"They were such tricky conditions

with everything going on that I was

really happy with the way I coped. I

showed that I'm not the rookie

everybody expected me to be."

Four wins from 15 races and 12

podiums is better than anyone else has ever achieved, including

Schumacher, Juan Manuel Fangio

and, more recently, Alonso.

In free practice, Hamilton was

fourth in both sessions. Ferrari's

Kimi Raikkonen, 17 points off the

lead in the title race, was quickest

both times. Alonso and Felipe

Massa were second and third

throughout. However, there was

little to separate the four.

There is a cool poise to Hamilton.

I first interviewed him last May

when he was beginning to turn

heads in GP2. He was polite and

modest — and ultra-confident and

ambitious. It hit you like a wave.

He said then: "Ayrton Senna was

the coolest, smoothest, most determined-

to-win driver I've ever seen. I

can relate to that. I feel I have a lot

in common with him and that's

probably why it clicked early on. He

was world champion. He was the

man. That's what I want to be."

At an ungodly hour of the British

Sabbath, his wish should be granted.

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