Thursday, January 17, 2008

Lewis Hamilton in the Gravel

Drivers raise safety fears

Lewis Hamilton was back in the gravel yesterday for the first time since he slid off on worn tyres in last year’s Chinese Grand Prix, as he spun his new McLaren Mercedes twice in testing in Jerez, Spain. The two off-track excursions came on a wet day and appeared to underline recent concerns among some drivers that the removal of driver aids this season – traction control and engine-braking among them – are making it much harder for drivers to control their cars when cornering.

Hamilton’s first encounter with the gravel came early in the morning session when his McLaren MP4-23 went into a spin at Turn 2 and ended up well back from the track. The car is not thought to have suffered serious damage and was quickly covered with a tarpaulin before being taken back to the pits.

The second “off” came late in the day and again there was no damage to the car. Hamilton finished the session second fastest among 14 drivers representing eight teams. Fastest was Timo Glock at the wheel of the new Toyota TF108, while Hamilton’s former teammate at McLaren, Fernando Alonso, was third quickest in last year’s Renault.

While some may conclude that Hamilton was struggling to control his car, others will view this as a typical example of the 23-year-old Briton pushing the limits as he learns the characteristics of the new car and the way it handles. As one respected analyst put it: “This was Lewis finding the limits without the gizmos – he just goes out there and finds his absolute limit and they [McLaren] don’t mind if he trashes the odd car, so long as he doesn’t hurt himself.”

Hamilton’s eventful day came as David Coulthard, the Red Bull driver, claimed many drivers are concerned about the safety implications of the abolition of electronic driver aids but are reluctant to speak out. “All the drivers, when we have the drivers’ meetings, express the same concerns,” Coulthard, whose team unveiled the new RB4 car yesterday, said. “There is an element of not wanting to get involved publicly, an element of not wanting to talk about safety because racing drivers are meant to be brave and pushing the limits. So it doesn’t always sit comfortably with some.”

Edward Gorman, Motor Racing Correspondent

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