There is a great scene in the first Matrix, when the bad guys have Neo trapped in a subway station and the head bad guy, Agent Smith, says to him, “Do you hear that? That is the sound of inevitability, Mr. Anderson…”
This year when I hear the sounds of Formula 1, the engines firing up in the garage, the sound of the race cars traveling a circuit, even Will Buxton’s pit lane interviews and all the background chatter, it reminds me of this scene in the Matrix, it reminds me of knowing inevitability. The sounds of Formula 1 this year are signaling Lewis Hamilton’s destiny to become a multiple world champion.
I have spent quite a bit of copy on Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso and rightfully so, they are two of the most important drivers of this current generation although Vettel it could be argued comes after Alonso. However, there is another, a third driver that we can include in this category of most important and that driver is Hamilton.
No disrespect to F1’s other current world champion drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Jenson Button, but these two are just not in same league as the trio of Vettel, Alonso and Hamilton. Sure, they can be extremely fast and have both produced incredible drives. Who can forget Raikkonen coming from last place in Japan to win the race at the end of the final lap with a pass executed on Giancarlo Fisichella (how bad did he feel?) and Button coming from behind not to mention having to travel the pit lane five times en route to passing Vettel in the final laps for the win in Canada all the while under changing conditions?
Yes, these are very accomplished drivers, but they are not like the other three. It’s just that simple. So I want to spend some quality time with our third protagonist, the one that is driving a Silver Arrow, the one that has a perfect record so far this season, Australia notwithstanding, the one that is driving on a different planet and hogging all the headlines. Oh what a difference a year can make, or in this case two.
A Small History Lesson
To be honest I don’t really follow the lower categories as much as maybe I should so when a young Hamilton was promoted to McLaren’s other race seat opposite Alonso I had no idea what to expect. That quickly changed.
Almost winning the championship in his first year (a record that even Vettel would have been envious of) it was clear to see that Hamilton was special. Much to my frustration and I suppose Alonso’s, what I was witnessing was a great talent, with much more to come no question.
No need to go into particulars about the acrimonious year Hamilton was paired with Alonso, but suffice to say he held his own against the two-time world champion and finished tied on points at year’s end, but technically ahead of Alonso based on final classifications.
Due to the inter-team fighting and disharmony Raikkonen was able to sneak in and claim the championship from right under both petulant driver’s noses. Ron Dennis must still be kicking himself for the mismanagement of his drivers that year.
Hamilton did win the title in his second attempt (a record that Vettel will never be able to take away) in the most dramatic of ways at the last race, at the last turn even, to deny Felipe Massa and become World Driver’s Champion capping what was a difficult and hard fought battle that year.
It looked like Hamilton was on his way to becoming world champion many times over. Call it his destiny, however that is not how the script played out. Many things need to go right for a driver to take a title and in the case of Hamilton, in the years that followed, just about everything including Hamilton himself, conspired against the effort to add his name a second and a third time to the big shiny trophy.
Lost In The Wilderness
Similar to a rock star or star-filled rock band after a multi-platinum first album, when one thinks they can do no wrong and the hits will just keep hitting, the crowds will just keep coming, the money will just keep flowing, at some point reality sets in and all of a sudden without warning, while on the top of the world, everything comes crashing down.
Now this is a little over-dramatic in comparison to the path Hamilton took, but there are similarities and while in Rock and Roll this behavior is tolerated, even encouraged, in racing when so much is on the line, when teams and sponsor are spending many millions of dollars, bad behavior and more importantly lack of results start to get a bit boring.
In 2010 Hamilton did have a decent chance at the drivers’ title, but on several occasions poor decisions while behind the wheel would put an end to any challenge that year. There was the coming together with Mark Webber in Singapore, way too ambitious if you ask me. There was the bizarre crash in Germany, where with no other cars around him, Hamilton finds the tires halfway through a chicane, driver error for sure. Then there was the first lap – exit stage left – in Monza where he crashed out. To finish first, you first have to finish. He also crashed out in an important practice session in Japan, again with no one around him. Need I go on?
Somewhere along the way Hamilton started to crash out other drivers as well. No one was safe, He crashed into the back of Kimi Raikkonen as the Finn waited for the red light to change at pit exit (I guess Hamilton just didn’t see it) and there was a particular affinity with Pastor Maldonado and Felipe Massa, which had a boiling over point in Singapore 2011 when Massa came up behind Hamilton during the bullpen interviews and made public his views on the matter. I think Hamilton even crashed out his teammate Jenson Button in Canada if I am not mistaken.
Penalties and run ins with the FIA seemed to find Hamilton wherever he went. There was Spa and his battle with Raikkonen, which produced all kinds of fallout. There was the time in Australia that centered on Jarno Trulli’s accident, in which Hamilton had to publicly apologize to the stewards and the FIA for what amounted to lying. There was the weekend to forget in Monaco where Hamilton was sanctioned twice and the Ali G comments took place, which also required a public apology. At some point I remember reading that the Briton had been penalized more than any other driver for these few years, thirty-five incidents in five years. That is an eye popping figure if you make your living as a racing driver.
Hamilton has also had what can only be described as a soap opera relationship with his on-again off-again girlfriend (it is currently on) Nicole Scherzinger. I’m not inclined to bring Hamilton’s private life into this discussion, I think a person’s private life should be just that, private, even if they are a very public figure. However, Hamilton and Scherzinger seemed to go out of their way to make their issues public and create drama where there was none. As much as fans tried to not pay any attention eventually it was unavoidable. Just a few words about Hamilton’s manager, his father who he moved on from after he won the championship. Nothing too our of the ordinary there, it makes perfect sense that the young Hamilton would want to go out on his own, but you got the feeling that somehow the two were estranged in the process.
As far as Hamilton’s driving was concerned, I am sure as much as a driver or rock star thinks he or she can deal with private issues while still performing at the highest level, the truth is, stuff like this does eventually take it’s toll and becomes a distraction. I am not even going to go into the music thing. Thank you very much.
Lastly there is the relationship with his former team, the only one he had ever known. The one that supported his career from day one, the team that gave him his first chance in F1 and a championship winning car, McLaren. I can’t really remember what precipitated the falling out, maybe it is just one of those things that happens when two parties have been together for so long or too long.
To give a little context on how toxic the relationship had become with Hamilton and McLaren, he was not even on speaking terms with the man that basically mentored him throughout his career from his early karting days, Ron Dennis. At the end of 2013 after Hamilton had finally made up his mind to leave the only parent he had known and try something different, he held a farewell party for the team. If the reports are correct, no one showed up. Ouch. Hamilton would later say, “There will be people [at McLaren] who are happy I am going.” Double ouch.
All this against the backdrop of Sebastian Vettel winning everything under the sun and his old nemesis Fernando Alonso now driving a Ferrari doing incredible things with an uncompetitive car and cementing himself in the sport as the best driver on the grid regardless of not having won a third title, but at least he had two. One bright spot here is that by this time both Hamilton and Alonso had moved on from the horrible relationship they had in their one year as teammates, and become much more at ease with each other, sometimes even appearing to be real friends, at least during the race weekend.
It must have been difficult to watch as Vettel, the new guy on the block, took away Hamilton’s thunder, staked a claim to the titles Hamilton felt he deserved, the titles he knew he could win, the titles we all knew he could and should win. It must have been equally frustrating to watch your former teammate Alonso whom you beat, who left your team in a bit of disgrace, not just repair his reputation but elevate it enough to be voted best driver two years (despite not winning a championship), and also dominate the headlines, and do it all for arguably the greatest racing marquee of all time.
What happened? What happened to Lewis, the rookie that almost won the title in his first year? What happened to the rest of his titles? What happened to his destiny? Those must have been very difficult days indeed for the young driver.
Everyone Loves A Comeback
Let’s go back to the movies for just for a second. There is a type of movie, in fact the Matrix and it’s central character Neo is a perfect example, in which an individual has to go through a type of trial and this trial comes to define who they are. It is movies such as this and characters like Neo that draw us in and captivate us to the fullest.
Stories both true and fictional that follow this archetype (usually but not always it is the hero of the story undergoing the trial) provide the most compelling look at our true nature and ourselves. Only when the hero has been stripped of everything they had, everything they thought important, does the journey begin to reveal itself.
When Hamilton dropped that bombshell on the F1 world that he would be leaving McLaren, one of the most successful racing organizations in the history of the sport, I don’t think there was one person, reporter, journalist, team principal, blogger (including this one), not to mention thousands of fans, that didn’t think he was completely nuts. If is at this point that Hamilton’s journey becomes complete.
Like all great characters that have nothing to lose and everything to gain, our hero throws it all away and takes a chance with a new team that quite frankly didn’t appear to have a lot going for it at the time. The one-off win in China was all Ross and company could do in the three years and the only real highlight for Mercedes-Benz.
Niki Lauda must have had a hell of a convincing argument for surely he was the one that ultimately persuaded Hamilton to change teams if not colors. And like the hero that finds his way again and is reborn, stronger and with steely resolve, Hamilton now finds himself right where he wants to be, right where he was always meant to be.
Similar to the Greek Gods that favored a mortal because of his courage and sacrifice, bestowing on him an impenetrable shield, or a sword able to pierce all known metals, the F1 Gods have rewarded Hamilton with a car that equals his talent and allows him to shine. Lewis Carl Davidson Hamilton is back and he is stronger than ever.
In the final scene of the Matrix when Trinity is watching the monitor and asks Morpheus, quite perplexed, “What is he doing?” (referring to Neo as he takes on several Agents including Smith), Morpheus replies, “He is starting to believe.” Hamilton now has something even more valuable than the W05, the summation of his journey and the knowledge that through the most trying of times he never gave up on himself. He never stopped believing that he has what it takes, and sometimes that is all one can do.
Destiny Does Not Wear A Watch
Hamilton’s date with destiny got sidetracked, it took a wrong turn, it went missing for a little while. If we are all honest we still knew it would happen, only it had become unclear just when it would happen. Not anymore. This is Lewis’s year; the signs are all there. I’m not saying it will be a walk in the park, but he is doing exactly what all champions do, taking full advantage of every single opportunity irrespective of the car advantage that he is enjoying, leaving nothing to chance.
I have long ago forgotten my ill feeling toward Hamilton when he disobeyed team orders and did not let Alonso by as was prearranged for the fuel burn before the last set of qualifying laps in Hungary, which then prompted Alonso to stay in the pit box and ruin Hamilton’s last attempt for pole and set in motion a truly ugly part of both driver’s careers. You all know how the story ends.
I will be pulling for Hamilton to claim the drivers’ title this year, to add that all-important second title which all drivers want on their resume. And although a driver’s first title must be an extraordinarily special thing, I think when Hamilton take his second it is going to be even sweeter for the Briton.
Monaco is this weekend, qualifying will have already happened by the time I submit this post and Hamilton will be chasing yet another pole and his fifth race win in a row. I have, along with a few of my colleagues at this site, picked number forty-four to do it again. Inevitable? I am starting to believe…