Juan Manuel Fangio, the great Argentine quadruple world champ, allegedly once told Ayrton Senna, “You must never believe you’re the best, but you must always try to be.” This remark, if true, shows two qualities in the attitude of “the maestro,” namely, humility and tenacity.
Although many might have argued that Senna took himself too seriously, he did exhibit humility after a fashion: he approached racing with a near religious devotion. He often spoke of in terms of experiencing “pure racing,” rather than simply winning trophies.
A McLaren driver of a later day, Lewis Hamilton, who idolizes Senna, apparently never got the Senna memo. He’s never made any boners about the fact that he thinks he’s the best on the grid, if not the best of all time.
He generally expects other drivers to lurch out of his way when he makes an overly-ambitious lunge, and when said lunge doesn’t pay off, it’s generally (in Hamspeak) the other driver’s fault.
Naturally, he’s come in for a bit of stick lately, for trying to bull his way through tight spaces as though he were a NASCAR driver (perhaps his latest exhibition pairing with Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen was no coincidence).
But Hammy is not apologetic, even though a number or prominent drivers haven’t spared criticism. Former Ferrari driver Eddie Irvine suggested Hammy was losing his way, Mark Webber said he’d found a way to trip over his own shoelaces, and Niki “the Rat” Lauda declaimed the Hamilton had become a real danger to other drivers.
And Hamilton’s reaction? He recently told The Evening Standard, “What Niki Lauda thinks about me, I really couldn’t give a toss about it.”
Okay, so Lauda is a bit of a loudmouth himself, never shy about saying something to keep his name in the headlines. And Hamilton has no mandate to take the criticism of others graciously.
But his self regard seems to further than that. At a recent event thrown by Williams to announce their new Renault engine deal, former Williams pilots and world champs Nigel Mansell and Jacques Villeneuve were both on hand. The assembled media pressed them for their opinions on rumors of Hamilton’s bailing out of McLaren to to climb aboard the good ship Red Bull. Both Mansell and Villeneuve opined that if Hamilton had any sense, he’s stay put.
Fair enough. Rightly or wrongly, it’s an opinion. But wait, Lewis Hamilton hasn’t taken kindly to such freedom of speech. Who do these men think they are, voicing their opinions — in public!
Said Hammy to the BBC, “I find it kind of funny. I’m not sure that anyone really cares what some of those people are talking about or their opinions. I think that if you have an opinion, just keep it to yourself.”
Did you hear that, guys? Next time you think about offering an opiniin about Hamilton (not even a criticism, mind you, but just an opinion), keep it to yourself. The world isn’t interested.
Of course, this latter comment seems to me to be a reaction to comments that struck a bit too close to the truth for comfort. Hamilton must be frustrated now, believing, as he does, that he’s the best, and therefore deserving of the best car. Great drivers such as Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher felt that exact frustration at certain points in their careers, when they were clearly in their primes, but their cars weren’t.
This is a dangerous attitude for a driver to have. It’s all too close to saying, “I’m the best, I deserve the best car, I should be winning all the time.” But in sports, as in life, nothing is anyone’s due. It takes an absurd amount of luck and skill combined to win a world championship just once. There have been a number of great drivers who never did, Sterling Moss sitting at the top of the heap, probably, with Dan gurney, in my estimation, ranking somewhere towards the top.
I think Fangio had it right. Drivers who come to believe they own the champion’s laurels are bound to trip over their own egos at one point or another. Even uber driver Michael Schumacher, whom many regarded as arrogant, generally never ran round the paddock tooting his own horn, reminding everyone that yes, he was the best, he really was.