For a man whose international rock and roll lifestyle would have been the envy of the Sybarites there was a strange wistfulness and sense of loss around Lewis Hamilton as he prepared for Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix.
Most of all, though, this emotional man grieved for McLaren, the team that fast-tracked him to greatness, for whom he drove from 2007 until 2012 and won his first world championship in 2008.
You might wonder what extraordinarily good mirrors and eyesight the world champion and current leader must possess to even catch a sight of his struggling former employers, who have only Manor for company at the foot of the constructors’ championship table.
Hamilton said: “I never really notice them, when I go past them. I can’t tell the difference, whether it’s Fernando [Alonso] or Jenson. It doesn’t look like a McLaren. For me, a McLaren is always red and white, or the silver car I drove.
“Now it is greyish, completely grey, and it feels very weird when you look at the board and see this team fighting with Marussia [Manor]. Marussia are relatively close and run on hardly any budget. It doesn’t make sense and I cannot believe that that team has got to that point.” There was no condescension in his voice, only sorrow.
Hamilton feels McLaren must stick with their two world champions. “Experience still stands for a lot and that team needs direction and a lot of help. I still think Jenson has a place in F1. He is one of the greats.”
Hamilton was booed by the Ferrari-adoring tifosi, that red sea of waving flags, when he won here for the first time in 2012, as a McLaren driver. He made it two wins in three when he triumphed again last year and now appears to have the locals eating out of his driving gloves.
“It has taken time,” he said, “but my fan base here has grown and now the majority of fans I meet ask me when I am coming to Ferrari. ‘Come to Ferrari, come to Ferrari,’ they say.
“It’s kind of neat that they want me to join their team. Over time people have seen how I drive and they appreciate it. But also people have seen how much I love Italy and how I interact with the fans.”
But for how much longer? Monza, arguably F1’s greatest venue, as well as its fastest, could be running out of track. There is no deal in place beyond next year. The famous woodland setting, the Parabolica, Ascari chicane and long, blistering straights, could soon be locked away in memory’s vault.
Bernie Ecclestone is asking for more than Monza is willing to pay. The gap is said to be €10m a year. “This has been going on for two and a half years and it’s up to them to make up their mind,” Ecclestone told Autosport. “The bottom line is we’ve got something to sell and they have to decide whether they want to buy it. The price we are asking for is the same as the other people in Europe are paying.”
Hamilton is not renowned for his David Starkey-like grasp of history, but he, too, is saddened by the idea. “It would be a shame to lose it because you have a historic circuit here. It should be here for the rest of Formula One’s life,” he said.
“When you go to a new circuit, Ayrton [Senna] didn’t drive there, Fangio didn’t drive there. The greats. There is no history there. Italy and Ferrari are huge parts of this sport. This is an area you can’t lose.”
Hamilton cannot lose either, it seems. With six wins, he leads the championship by 28 points with eight to play. With his new hairstyle prepare for “Fizzy Blond” headlines in the popular papers if he sprays the bubbly once again on Sunday.
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