divwidth: 100%; background-color: #cc3300""Britain's boy racer escapes from wreckage of 185mph test crash.
Lewis Hamilton, Britain’s new Formula One star, walked away unscathed after crashing his multimillion-pound car at almost 200mph on a test circuit in Valencia yesterday.
On a day of pain in Spain for the nation’s most daring drivers, Jenson Button had earlier sat helplessly as his new Honda broke down during the first lap of a warm-up session in Barcelona.
Hamilton, presented alongside Fernando Alonso, the world champion, as one of McLaren Mercedes’ two race drivers for this season at a launch ceremony only last week, was said to be travelling at speeds of up to 185mph when he lost control of his car.
According to reports from the Circuit Ricardo Tormo, where the team were conducting a closed test session, Hamilton was travelling down the pit straight into the first corner when his car, the silver and red MP4-22, went into a spin and careered off the track backwards through a gravel trap before crashing into a tyre wall.
The 22-year-old from Tewin Wood in Hertfordshire, who will become the first black driver in Formula One when he takes his place on the starting grid at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix in mid-March, said that he was unhurt.
In a brief statement, he said: “Unfortunately with this sport these things happen. I am completely fine and was conscious throughout. I am now looking forward to getting back to testing next week.”
His car, however, in which McLaren have invested up to £50 million in development and research over the past nine months and will cost hundreds of thousands of pounds to repair, was described by the team as “badly damaged”. It was loaded on to a truck and returned to the pits.
The team said that the car could not be repaired in Valencia and Hamilton’s test session — his first since the launch — has been suspended. Hamilton had completed 33 laps until that point after a full day at the circuit on Wednesday when his fastest lap time was seven-tenths of a second slower than Alonso, who completed his own session yesterday without incident.
News on the cause of the crash is sketchy — whether there was a failure in the complex car-management system on the MP4-22, the brakes or the suspension, or whether Hamilton had misjudged his approach into the corner and lost the back end as he attempted to slow.
Whatever, the accident is a huge setback for Hamilton and McLaren, who are thought to have only two models of their new car available to their top two drivers at present as they continue their intensive testing and development programme in the build-up to Melbourne. The team are due to complete another three-day test in Valencia next week.
Hamilton, who had given warning that this will be a learning year for him, is a self-assured young man and it would be surprising if his confidence was affected by this incident. He said recently that he hopes to gain as much knowledge as possible from Alonso and predicted that he and the Spanish double world champion could be a lot closer to each other in performance by Melbourne than some sceptics in the paddock have supposed.
The drama in Valencia came as the previous occupant of the “great young hope” category in British Formula One history, Jenson Button, presented his new Honda for the forthcoming season at Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya. The 27-year-old is setting out on his eighth season in Formula One and has learnt to play down expectations, but still believes that he can be in the running for his first championship this year.
In what he and his team will hope to prove a misleading portent, his Honda RA 107 made an inauspicious start to its second day of testing, breaking down after Button had travelled only three corners into his first lap. The car, which had a fault in its gearbox, was quickly repaired and Button was able to complete a full day’s work.