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Page last updated at 19:45 GMT, Sunday, 6 July 2008 20:45 UK

Hamilton shines in Silverstone gloom

Lewis Hamilton
Lewis Hamilton answered his critics producing one of the great performances

Andrew Benson
BBC Sport at Silverstone

Lewis Hamilton tried to quote Martin Luther King after the British Grand Prix, but in the heat of the moment he could not remember what he wanted to say.

The McLaren driver stumbled over his words, and ended up with the rather less than poetic: "This week has been tough - when you lose, you learn a lot more."

The line he was searching for was this one: "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."

Whichever words you choose, Hamilton proved on Sunday that he has that quality required by all great sportsmen the ability to shine in adversity.

And oh how he shone at a treacherously wet Silverstone.

It was a performance that seems certain to go down as one of the greatest drives in Formula One history, one that is already being talked of in the company of those produced by Michael Schumacher in Spain in 1996 or Ayrton Senna at Donington in 1993, among others.

He was driving within himself comfortably quicker than anyone else. It was an astonishing performance

McLaren managing director Martin Whitmarsh
This was a day when one driver made the others look like amateurs, when his performance reached such heights that it scarcely seems possible.

At times, Hamilton was four or five seconds faster than his pursuers, even team-mate Heikki Kovalainen in a similar car.

These sorts of margins are not unknown in F1, but they tend to happen only when the very greatest drivers are at their best in conditions that test the field to the absolute limit.

In all these cases, it is the apparent effortlessness of it that is most astounding.

While most of his rivals among them some of the best racing drivers in the world - were exploring the Northamptonshire scenery on Sunday afternoon, Hamilton was virtually mistake-free.

At one point, he was trying to back off to avoid making mistakes, and still he was pulling away from what by then could only loosely be referred to as his pursuers.

"If I go any slower," he told his team over the radio, "I'll stop."

"The team were telling me, 'you're five, seven seconds faster than the guy behind you'," he said after the race, "and I thought: 'What's going on?' I said, I'm comfortable at the pace I'm going. Then I had to think about it - imagine I'm a minute ahead and I go off. That would be the most embarrassing thing, I'd have to retire!"

It is true that it is not always possible to directly compare drivers' performances in races as topsy-turvy as this.

Lewis Hamilton
Hamilton made light work of the wet conditions at Silverstone
Their tyres are in a different condition at different times, their fuel loads may not be comparable until the closing stages of the race, and the track is changing by the minute.

But few who watched Hamilton on Sunday were in any doubt about the magnificence of what they had seen.

McLaren managing director Martin Whitmarsh was asked where Hamilton's drive ranked with those of other great wins by the team such as Senna's in 1993.

"It's up there, isn't it?" Whitmarsh said. "I'm a lousy historian so I'm ducking the question but only because in the euphoria of the moment you can be disrespectful to the great things of the past.

"I was fortunate enough to be at Donington in 1993. That was a pretty amazing experience; this was a pretty amazing experience.

"How many people were really struggling out there? He found grip that other people weren't finding. He was driving within himself comfortably quicker than anyone else. It was an astonishing performance."

Yet what made it all the more incredible was that just a day before Hamilton had looked very ordinary indeed.

On Saturday afternoon Hamilton did what he described as a "terrible job" in qualifying, and at that point it looked as if the pressures that had been bearing down on him over the previous few weeks had become too much for him to bear.

He had not taken kindly to some of the negative coverage in the UK media after he crashed into Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari in the pits in Canada, throwing away a certain win.

Things got worse when he failed to score points in the next race in France, when his driving appeared too impatient as he tried to make up ground following a 10-place grid penalty.

He was the focus of more negative coverage in the run-up to this race.

People were openly questioning whether his new-found fame, his seemingly never-ending series of PR appearances and endorsement deals, and his delight in his new celebrity friends were taking his focus off the reason he was getting them his driving.

Many were saying that Hamilton was becoming a little too pleased with himself, that attending Nelson Mandela's 90th birthday party and going out with a pop star girlfriend the Pussycat Dolls' Nicole Scherzinger - was a certain way for a driver's focus to be taken off the job in hand.

Seen in the context of the mistakes he made at the climax of the championship last year, observers were beginning to wonder whether an inability to handle pressure was the one weakness in the armoury of this remarkable racing driver.

Over the British Grand Prix, those voices could be heard loud and clear in the F1 paddock.

Those doubts look a little silly now, even if his admission after the race that he was worried how he would look in pictures this weekend because he had "this big cut on my face and got this fat lip" suggests he might be a little too concerned with his image.

Whitmarsh described all this as "just another great challenge" for his driver.

"Last year was the start of a phenomenon," Whitmarsh added. "Inevitably, people, fans, media build someone up. It was an unbelievable series of events.

"As he went into this year he has achieved superstar status, and if you trip and stumble people want to jump on it. None of us have experienced that as personally as Lewis has. None of us could possibly understand the sort of pressure he's been under.

"He's had to learn that's the business. This race will I'm sure have taken all those out of his mind.

"It's been a big learning experience for him the last few weeks. He's come through it remarkably well. He'll reflect on the last few races and I think we've got a good basis to go forward. He's leading the world championship, he knows he's got the momentum."

After a performance like that on Sunday, who would bet against Hamilton, this time, going all the way?

see also
Hamilton surges to British GP win
06 Jul 08 |  Formula One
'Best victory' delights Hamilton
06 Jul 08 |  Formula One
British GP as it happened
06 Jul 08 |  Formula One
British GP photos
06 Jul 08 |  Motorsport
Silverstone, UK
03 Jul 08 |  Circuit Guide

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