Yearning and learning - Lewis Hamilton’s 2010 season
The season is over and McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton has declared himself glad. It’s been a tough and changeable year for the British driver, but that’s not why he’s ready for a break; he’s ready because he gave his all trying - and ultimately failing - to clinch a second world title. He arrived at the Abu Dhabi finale as the rank outsider, with a 24-point deficit to Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, and knew he had to win and for his rivals to fail, if he was to clinch the championship.
In the end, second in the race (and fourth in the standings) was the best he could muster. A tiring end to a tiring year, but it wasn’t all disappointment, for Hamilton knows he very nearly pulled it off. Against all odds, he proved that a supremely fast and consistent driver can challenge those with quicker cars, assuming that driver never gives up. And Hamilton didn’t.
In a McLaren equipped with the team’s innovative F-Duct, Hamilton’s season got off to a strong start in Bahrain with third place behind the Ferraris, and it might have been second but for a lap-one driver error. That was quickly tempered, however, by poor weekends and sixth places in Australia and Malaysia, though the Sepang race did at least see the 2008 champion storm through the pack from 20th on the grid.
Superb strategy and some fortunate safety-car timing saw Hamilton take second in China behind team mate Jenson Button, despite the superior pace of the Red Bulls. He was right behind the blue cars on the Barcelona grid too and even managed to split them in the race, only for a stone-induced wheel failure to rob him of P2 within sight of the flag. It would be his first of four season DNFs.
At Monaco it was becoming increasingly clear that McLaren’s MP4-25 was no match for Red Bull’s RB6 on the majority of circuits and, lying fifth in the standings, Hamilton’s title challenge already looked to be fading. Fifth place - and only the tenth-fastest race lap - in the Principality did little to change that.
But in Turkey McLaren found more pace. Hamilton split the Red Bulls in qualifying, and then beat them both after their coming together in the race, though only after a brief, but tense wheel-to-wheel battle with Button. It put both men firmly back in the title hunt and they capitalised at the next round in Canada, with Hamilton heading a strong McLaren one-two. He was back on top of the table, but only just.
An eventful European Grand Prix saw Hamilton survive a drive-through for passing the safety car and finish second behind Sebastian Vettel, thus extending his championship lead thanks to Mark Webber’s infamous airborne retirement. That was followed by another excellent second place, this time trailing a dominant Webber, at his home race at Silverstone.
A fourth place in Germany saw Hamilton retain P1 in the standings, but McLaren could not live with the speed of the Ferraris or the Red Bulls. Things got worse in Hungary - the team’s poorest race of the season - where a gearbox failure meant he lost his championship lead. But he fought back at Spa, keeping a cool head in changeable track conditions to take a memorable victory from Webber.
Ambition got the better of him at Monza, where an ill-advised passing attempt on Ferrari’s Felipe Massa saw him spearing into the barriers on lap one, and there was similar woe in Singapore where a collision with Webber (stewards deemed it a racing incident) meant another DNF. A third retirement in four races was not good news for his title ambitions, especially with the MP4-25 continuing to struggle for pace.
His championship hopes faded further in Japan, where transmission problems forced him to drive much of the race with only fourth to seventh gears. He was grateful to make it home in fifth. Korea was better - a strong second in the wet behind Alonso, helped admittedly by the failure of both Red Bulls to finish. He was still just about in the hunt, but after fourth place at the penultimate round in Brazil, where his car simply lacked speed, Hamilton admitted he would need nothing short of a miracle in Abu Dhabi.
In the end, it was Vettel who experienced the miracle, as he took pole position, race win and drivers’ title in quick succession. Whilst Alonso and Webber could - at least in part - blame themselves for their championship failings, Hamilton did as much as he could. Second on the grid and then second in the race was about as much as the McLaren had in it, and he pushed Vettel very hard indeed until he was trapped behind Robert Kubica, the Pole’s Renault’s on a long opening stint.
Faced with such quick competition, and equipped with an at times inconsistent McLaren, Hamilton had always known title success would be tough this year. That he managed to stay in the running up until the last race is testament to his skill and determination behind the wheel. The British driver says he’s learnt a lot this year and he’s optimistic McLaren will be even stronger in 2011. Red Bull had better watch their backs - ‘hungry’ is an understatement...