Lewis Hamilton identifies response to Spa adversity as title battle turning point
"Years ago, I wouldn’t have reacted the way I did this year" reflects older and wiser Lewis; But Hamilton admits his relationship with Rosberg may remain strained despite post-race reconciliation
By Pete Gill
Last Updated: 26/11/14 4:32pm
Lewis Hamilton has pinpointed his response to being shunted out of the Belgian GP as the critical turning point in his World Championship battle with Nico Rosberg.
Hamilton’s race retirement at Spa, the consequence of what was, at best, a clumsy move by Rosberg on the second lap, marked the nadir of his season-long feud with his boyhood friend turned title foe.
It also represented the low point statistically in Hamilton’s bid to win the title as an unrepentant Rosberg departed Belgium boasting a lead of 29 points in the World Championship – the largest such lead he would hold all year. However, Rosberg’s advantage would turn out to be a pyrrhic gain as Hamilton, galvanised by his team-mate's perceived confession to causing the accident on purpose, responded with five successive victories to turn the title battle on its head.
“Spa was a low moment,” Hamilton reflected after sealing his second title with a dominant victory in Abu Dhabi. “It was a very difficult scenario to be in and going back years ago, I wouldn’t have reacted the way I did this year.
"I would have chosen another way which wouldn’t have been a positive and I guess with age, and just maturing and having a different perspective on life, I handled it a different way. I really thought for the following days and really turned my focus to a different area.”
While Hamilton was able channel his frustration to his advantage, Rosberg suffered a vicious ‘blowback’ with the German thereafter frequently booed on the podium by an incredulous public and his qualifying mistake in Monaco subject to fresh, and rather more cynical, scrutiny.
"I think the Spa podium was a big turning point for Rosberg,” noted Sky F1’s Martin Brundle in the aftermath of Hamilton's title coronation. "Lewis came out of the team meeting saying ‘I am going to thrash him now and he did that on purpose’ and I think that destabilised Rosberg even more. Lewis was a bit disingenuous how he used the words, but he used the moment."
Hamilton’s victories in Bahrain and, two months after the Spa furore, in Austin, also represent significant turning points in the campaign. But was there another on Saturday evening in Abu Dhabi when, unbeknown to him, Hamilton’s family had already pre-empted his urgent appeal for support after an error-strewn qualifying? Having started the weekend without any sort of entourage, race day dawned, to the title favourite's relief and suprise, with a posse of friends, family, and girlfriend in the paddock to provide a reassuring presence on what Hamilton belatedly realised would be the pressure-filled “biggest day of my life”.
“At the start of the week, I wasn’t edgy, I was feeling really good.” Hamilton mused in the post-race press conference. "I genuinely felt, when you saw me coming here on Thursday, I really did feel relaxed, practice was generally going well and qualifying was a little bit tougher and the pressure was increasing.
“I was messaging with my Dad on Saturday night and I went out to the beach and I was messaging with him and I said ‘guys I would love you to be here but just know I’m here just working away. I’m not out having dinner or all these different things. I’m trying to make you proud.’ Anyways, he turned up in the morning. He must have been at the airport while he was doing it.”
In the event, there was no real reason for alarm as Hamilton instantly made amends for his botched efforts in qualifying by dispatching Rosberg off the line before building up a commanding lead prior to the German’s unfortunate car malfunction. As a gracious and dignified Rosberg was the first to concede afterwards, the title had, in effect, already been secured by Hamilton long before his W05 turned lame. "Lewis deserved to win today and also to win the championship," Rosberg acknowledged to Sky Sports F1. "He was that little bit better this year and it is fully deserved. He has done an amazing job and was the best driver on the grid this year."
In a classy gesture, Rosberg sought out Hamilton after the race to embrace and congratulate his rival on his triumph. But after a year soured and stained by mutual distrust and icy acrimony, it remains to be seen whether the reconciliation will survive another head-to-head contest for the title in 2015 if, as expected, Mercedes start the new season as the team to beat.
"It’s been so intense between us all year long,” said Hamilton. “There’s been good moments and bad moments. Without a doubt we’ve had a friendship or a relationship that we built a long, long, long time ago, so that will always be there. He was a very, very fierce competitor this year, he did an exceptional job. He’s going to be quick for a long time.
“Perhaps things naturally will ease up a little now. He was graceful enough to come up to me and see me after, which I really appreciated. It was really big of him to be able to do that. It’s very, very tough, I know what it’s like losing a championship so, for sure, we’ll keep working at it."
The secret behind Lewis Hamilton’s lightning fast start in his own words:
“Obviously we have a sequence that we have to go through and we have to perform at the right time, making sure that you prepare the clutch throughout the weekend, prepare your tyres when you get to your spot. I work very closely with the engineer who works with my clutch. He came to my room before the race and asked “how do you want to approach this.” I said: “The same as every time. We don’t need to do any more or any less.” When the start goes, when you do the formation lap, you get a feel for how good the clutch is at that point. You have to guide them or give them feedback whether you need more torque or more slip. Anyways, we hit is spot on. The second part, when you let out the second part and you feed the throttle, that’s when the driver comes it. But felt like the best start I’ve ever had. Absolutely phenomenal.”