Motorsport Spat: Hamilton vs IndyCar


Now, I am by no means the biggest Hamilton fan, but neither do I dislike him. I do think he is rather obtuse at times and self-interested in interviews: also his attempts to forge a comparison between himself and Senna seem far flung. Whilst hugely impressive in numerical terms Hamilton has not yet inspired an entire nation as far as I am aware, plus he has never really had a bad car to contend with in his entire career. However, I am going to try to look through my own opinions of Hamilton, a man who I think is extremely talented and yet similarly hard to like, in order to give a fair handed assessment of what has been said in recent days. If you are unaware the story is that there is a large spat developing between Hamilton and, as it appears, the entire IndyCar grid. This was all started by Lewis’ opinion of Fernando’s 5th placed qualifying over in America at the Indy500.

Hamilton’s Original Offence

This was Hamilton’s original comment, given to L’Equipe in France:

“Fernando, in his first qualifying, came fifth. Does that say something about the level of IndyCar? Great drivers, if they can’t succeed in Formula One, look for titles in other races, but to see him come fifth against drivers who do this all year around is…interesting.”

Now,  obviously Lewis could have just been trying to make the point that Fernando’s qualifying was excellent; sort of saying “look, wow he beat those guys who do it all year!” and on the surface that does seem to be the case. But, if we take his actual sentence of “Great drivers, if they can’t succeed in Formula One, look for titles in other races” in light of his history with Fernando, then the comment is much more insidious. Lewis is fully aware that Alonso gained a lot of coverage over at Indy and that he gained a lot of fans over in America. Lewis is also fully aware from his time at McLaren with Fernando that the Spaniard is one of 3 other drivers who could have him beaten in equal cars: at least that’s how I see it. The top tier for me is: Hamilton, Vettel, Alonso and Ricciardo. At a time where Fernando’s future in F1 is in the limelight I am taking this comment as Hamilton trying to protect his own place in a car that is far above the Spaniard: putting him down despite excellent performances in Indy.

But this is not the main thrust of my irritation at Hamilton’s comment. To me it takes a special kind of calculated intention to be able to so swiftly insult both a great F1 champion in Alonso and also the entire IndyCar grid in one single paragraph. I am of course talking about the phrase “Fernando, in his first qualifying, came fifth. Does that say something about the level of IndyCar?” as the main point of contention. I don’t even need to analyse this for you to see the problem here. His questioning of the talent in IndyCar has caused many rebuttals from their grid and will hardly be likely to improve his social standings in the US. Let’s have a look at those rebuttals.

IndyCar Strikes Back
“You’re humble, not like your other fellow F1 drivers that made some comments this month…What are you going to say? Hamilton raced two cars last year and finished second so I can’t think I can say a lot about him.”

This was what Tony Kanaan said to Fernando himself; offering him the chance to get back at Lewis over his comments. Alonso, a double world champion, has played the political game of F1 for over a decade and did not lash any statements back from across the pond. However, those in IndyCar, like Kanaan, don’t have to think of those things. Even from the quote this is obvious: in fact saying that “Hamilton raced two cars last year and finished second so I can’t think I can say a lot about him” is probably the biggest ‘burn’ I have ever witnessed in Motorsport.

Kanaan after victory at the 2013 Indy500.

However, Tony is not the only IndyCar driver to come out in defence of Alonso and also their sport as a whole.Graham Rahal was far more opaque in his irritation, saying:

“When I saw Lewis Hamilton’s comment, you guys know me, it took me everything I had in my body not to say something. Legitimately, in Formula One, over his entire career, it’s been a two-car race, four max, max. IndyCar racing, this is the seventh race, seventh different winner. That doesn’t happen in other motor sports. Period. So no matter what anybody wants to say, it’s a great form of motor sports”

This is pretty close to calling IndyCar more competitive that Formula 1, and whilst I would hotly contest that viewpoint I could understand why this was said. As I wrote in my post about Fernando’s running at Indy I am of the opinion that F1 could learn a lot from contemplating running a ‘stock series’ which limits the extent of the influence of engineers and puts drivers at the centre of importance. The cars would all be closer and the championship would be riveting, with much more overtakes on track. It would not even be “anti competitive” as with a stock chassis each engineering input would be even more vital for the teams. This appears to be a big distinction between IndyCar and F1: the racing and series as an event is much more important in America currently than it is in the paddock; something that Liberty Media want to address. My point is that Hamilton’s comments and their responses have incited a wider conversation about the state of both racing series and their pull for fans. Indeed James Hinchcliffe also made a serious point about F1 when insulting Hamilton:

“It’s funny hearing comments about the depth of our field from someone that only has to race three other cars”

Hinchcliffe, a Canadian, waves his flag after winning the Iowa Corn 250. It will be very interesting to see how Hamilton is received in Canada next race weekend.

But for me the most interesting comment was Rahal’s final jab in this round of the fight:

“Look, the truth? I put Scott Dixon in a Mercedes all day long, and Lewis is going to have more than he really wants to deal with. I can guarantee you that. Maybe not me, but Scott Dixon.”

This is the most interesting comment for one main reason: it brings up the idea of different motorsport series allowing more movement of their drivers. IndyCar is a difficult sport, a different challenge to F1 but their drivers require a real sensitivity of their cars at such high speeds on the oval courses and remember, they also do road courses as well! I would like to see Scott Dixon drive an F1 car as much as I enjoyed Fernando in an IndyCar. It is interesting to see how adaptable drivers are and how quickly they pick up new skills. Last time, in my Indy500 review, I said this:

“Hulkenberg at Le Mans? That worked a treat too! Hamilton in Nascar? Yes please! Vettel in the Isle Of Man TT Race? Make it happen!”

Rahal’s comment about putting Dixon in a Mercedes creates dialogue about these possibilities: will this war of words spoil the broth and stop such interchangeability? Or will such publicity push drivers to seek to prove themselves over the entire globe instead of one series? I still hold to my opinion that further fluidity between the world of racing is a great idea. The only difference is that I don’t think Hamilton will be racing in Nascar anytime soon if America has anything to say about it.


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