It’s a fairly tenuous game drawing parallels between two very different careers, but watching Lewis Hamilton during last weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix reminded of another driver I admired a more than decade ago.
He also arrived in the world championship with a bang, defying his relative inexperience to record brilliant results early on and carry that momentum into an early world championship.
Like Lewis, he was regarded as the fastest man out there, yet like Lewis he couldn’t always turn his speed into victories, partly as a result of his car letting him down, partly as a result of making mistakes while sitting on – and beyond – the edge.
The man I refer to is Colin McRae and, while I fully accept the two are leagues apart in personality and their chosen branch of motorsport, I also see another parallel that could be looming large – and that is that, for all his talent, Colin never added to his world championship tally.
While Colin went through season after season of astounding highs and lows, mixing brilliant victories with heart-wrenching mechanical failures or (less often than many suppose) driving mistakes, other drivers picked up world titles; in my mind Tommi Mäkinen, Richard Burns and Petter Solberg were never quite as ultimately fast as the Scot, but they all won titles when he didn’t. Quick as he could be, Marcus Grönholm’s early championship success owed more to consistency than blinding pace.
Lewis is showing signs of following a similar pattern. There’s no doubt he among the very fastest out there, but there’s growing evidence – almost on a race-by-race basis this season – that his unwillingness to drive at any pace other than flat out is dooming him to seasons of boom and bust, brilliant victories or non-scores.
Spa was yet another example of this. He could have left Kobayashi more room, lost a tenth or two and carried on for a likely podium. Instead, he looked for the ideal line and it cost him dear.
Sure, that unwillingness to accept less than perfection is undoubtedly exacerbated by the fact Lewis is trying to extend his talents to make up for not having the best car. Nor would he have won as many races as he has to date if he was the sort of driver to play the percentages.
But I also think a cooler head would have won him another world title (in his debut season), would have kept him in the fight for last year’s title a lot longer and may even have allowed him to put a bit more pressure on Sebastian Vettel this season.