Evening Standard

The 1996 champion has a warning for Lewis Hamilton, thinks that the success already achieved by Sebastian Vettel is ‘ridiculous’ and urges Bernie Ecclestone to invest some of F1’s riches in Silverstone

Hill . . . on Lewis Hamilton

Lewis, nurtured as a prodigy by his father, Anthony, and Ron Dennis [of McLaren] has a great story to tell. The question is how will the story turn out? Where is Lewis’s career going? He is mercurial, got all this talent but somehow it’s squandered and lost. When is he going to get it back? Will he maximise his opportunity? He’s moved to Mercedes. He’s not 30 but he’s getting close [28]. The clock is ticking for Lewis.

I don’t want to say Lewis is naive but he has a lot to learn. He genuinely wants to pursue his career in his own way. But the sport that he’s in is a very Machiavellian place. To succeed in Formula One you have to be a bit ruthless, have a focus, and almost a business mindset. Maybe he doesn’t want to have that. He wants to get in his car and show what he can do.

For people like Lewis, there are two career paths: the Beckham model (he’s managed by the same management group). That model has shown that some people can transcend their sport. Lewis’s management seem to be suggesting that he should follow the Beckham model. Lewis has clearly a lot going for him in the personality area. His girlfriend is a famous singer. But what is the measure of someone’s success? Is it fame or is it actual success?

The difficulty for Lewis is Formula One doesn’t regards its own drivers as celebrities. They’re stars because they perform. If you’re a footballer, you win if your team win. When you’re a racing driver it’s not like that, it’s your own performances that count. At the end of the day they don’t look back at your career and go, ‘Well, you were with a team that won’. They look back at your results and go, ‘How many races or championships did you win?’

When Lewis decided [to leave McLaren] it looked a bit of a reckless move. But, over the winter, Mercedes have been more competitive than they were before, so Lewis made the right move. Lewis hasn’t blown his chances of winning [the championship] this year. He has the car to win the British Grand Prix. Sebastian Vettel [top of the table with a 36-point lead] will be tough to beat but not impossible.

. . . on Sebastian Vettel

Someone is going to have to do something pretty remarkable to catch him this year. He’s on the way to his fourth world championship, he’s just 25. It is ridiculous. Vettel will be a legend.

On the other side, you have two older, more experienced guys: Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen. Raikkonen is the steadiest, fastest driver out there and has finished every race. He’s a prime example of what talent can do when it’s harnessed to maturity and understanding.

The same goes for Alonso. He’s not afraid to do what’s necessary so he can get the best chance for his career. He’s the most complete driver out there.

Alonso has not got the equipment Vettel has. The issue with Vettel is how well would he do if he didn’t have as good a car? I don’t think he copes well with losing, or very well with being in the pack. Raikkonen and Alonso have to fight for everything they can get. They’ve got to stay out of trouble and they’ve managed to do that. Vettel still lacks maturity in that department.

. . . on Red Bull’s success

It’s an amazing achievement. I thought Ferrari would be more dominant than they are. It’s the Red Bull combination of Vettel, Adrian Newey [technical chief] and Christian Horner [team principal] who’s a very, very competitive individual. Red Bull feel they would be even further ahead had the tyres been more durable [softer tyres came into use last season after Pirelli won the contract].

I did expect McLaren to build on their performance but they seem to have shot themselves in the foot. The surprise is Mercedes, how competitive they are and although their race pace is no good, they’ve got speed. I’m pretty sure Mercedes will be a front-running challenger to Red Bull next year.

. . . on Tyregate

Red Bull and Ferrari complain that the test [where Mercedes’ Hamilton and Nico Roseberg tested tyres for Pirelli for three days in Spain] took place without their knowledge. Most people’s understanding of the rules is that there is no testing with contemporary cars during the season. But, next year, they’re going to bring in turbo-charged engines and Pirelli need to get their information from a currently competitive car. So there’s a good argument to say they were doing the responsible thing.

. . . on Silverstone

In Britain, we’ve got assets that are fantastically important for promoting the country: the British Grand Prix is one of them. When it takes place, 600million people around the world know about Britain and also that the cars are primarily built and engineered here. So it’s a fantastic opportunity. Silverstone could be our Indianapolis. It needs investment to make the venue appropriate for that to happen. Silverstone needs some good grandstands for fans to be able to see what’s going on.

Formula One makes a huge amount of money. Why is it not reinvesting that money into its venues? Surely it’s the responsible thing to do; look at football, look at cricket.

The first Grand Prix ever took place in Silverstone and it would never have happened without this country’s enthusiasm for the sport and for engineering. We sell out at Silverstone and the ticket prices are very high. Ninety thousand or 110,000 people will come on race day. That beats anywhere in the world.

We really do need to feed the roots. Bernie Ecclestone sometimes misses that point. The way he looks at it is that somebody else will make money out of it, not him. I’d argue he will make money out of Silverstone. It would be fantastic if Bernie would grasp that nettle. He could lead Britain if he did that.

. . . on Bernie Ecclestone

Bernie and his tax problems in Germany are a serious worry [Ecclestone could face charges after admitting in a German court last year to making payments to a former banker, Gerhard Gribkowsky, who was jailed]. But Bernie has a remarkable ability to survive.

He has come this far, he is not going to call it a day. Forget it; it’s not going to happen. Bernie’s made a lot of opportunities for the sport, kicked everyone into shape when perhaps it was all a bit shambolic. Bernie’s foresight is incredible.

The only issue I have with his approach is that I do believe there are cornerstones which are valuable to Grand Prix. Without European enthusiasm, if you just took the sport off to China, India or the States, it would die within minutes.

In Malaysia and China, the stands are not packed and that’s the difference between feeding a sport top down and one which has grown from the grassroots up. There’s no indigenous love of the sport in those countries. In Bahrain, they are trying to sell Formula One as a good thing to the people — they’re not buying. But I don’t think Bernie’s interested in the sport. He’s interested in the return it gives.

The British Grand Prix is live on Sky Sports F1 HD from 28-30 June. Only with Sky Sports can you watch 116 live Barclays Premier League matches, the Lions Tour, the Ashes, Formula 1 and US Open tennis in HD and on mobile and tablet devices.


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