Danger and skill of F1 not appreciated


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MONZA, Italy — Five-time world champion Lewis Hamilton believes the inherent danger and skill required to win in Formula One is sometimes underestimated.

Hamilton is closing in on Michael Schumacher’s record of 91 wins and seven world championships and has won four of the last five drivers’ titles. It is often assumed that Hamilton wins only because he has the fastest car in Formula One, but he believes the impact a driver has on a race is often underplayed.

“It does sometimes make me wonder,” he said, “there’s a lot that’s put on, in terms of performance, there is a lot put on the car, and I would say that it’s less concerned and more driver. You look at some races you come to, there’s two of my [Mercedes] cars [on the grid], and sometimes there’s a car in between us, or maybe more than one. It’s not necessarily who always has the fastest car.

“The reason I got into this sport, and my dad thought that I would do well, is because he used to say he bought me a four-poster bed, he would call it — it was a fifth-hand kart — and I used to pull more out from that kart than the other drivers could do. Some races, I’ve been in the past able to do more with the car than it has particularly wanted to do. That’s what I enjoy.

“I arrive at these tracks and I’ve got this experience, where we’re not the quickest like the last race, and I was able to make a subtle difference to the race. I just approach it the same, trying to outdrive the car, even when there are scenarios like the last race where we weren’t particularly as quick as the Ferraris, but we could outdrive a little bit and put it in close range with the car that is fastest.”

After the death of Anthoine Hubert in a Formula 2 accident at the Belgian Grand Prix, Hamilton took to Instagram to post a tribute to the Frenchman. He added that the dangers of the sport are often “not appreciated enough” by fans and some people working F1, adding that Hubert was a hero “for taking the risk he did to chase his dreams.”

Speaking ahead of this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix, Hamilton said F1 has become so detached from reality and so safe in recent years that it’s easy for those outside the sport to forget about the inherent dangers.

“I think it’s a difficult one, because as I always say, it is not like other sports where any one of us can go and kick a ball,” he said. “If anybody has ever made a good serve in tennis and felt like Roger Federer or scored a goal and it’s gone in the top corner and you felt like a pro, you can’t go and do what we do in these racing cars and get close to what we experience.

“It’s different when there were deaths constantly because it was more at the top of people’s minds. It happens a lot less and we go through the weekend like it’s a fun sporting event, but jeez, it’s still super dangerous and we are doing over 200 mph and the majority of the time we are on or beyond the limit.

“It’s difficult when there are not too many crashes all the time because of the run- off areas we have, but the danger factor is still there and that’s the point that I had to mention and make sure it is not forgotten.

“It needs to be remembered by us all, and even my engineers that I work with or the guys in the garage need to remember. Stuff like last weekend happens and everyone is shocked, but it is still a dangerous sport and we need to continue to work towards making it safer.”

Hamilton’s Instagram post was also partly influenced by the fact that fans at Spa-Francorchamps had cheered on Saturday morning when he had made a mistake and slid off the circuit into a tyre barrier.

Another driver to talk about F1 driver safety on Thursday during Monza’s media day was Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo, who said he understands how easy it can be for fans to underappreciate the task facing athletes in any discipline.

“Whether you like somebody or not, it is not nice to cheer for someone’s downfall or mistake,” Ricciardo said. “[Hamilton] thinks the crowd assumes that the crash was OK, and whatever. But it is not like that. Every time we go on track there is a risk, and every time we do hit a wall, whether we are OK or not, it still plays something on your mind.

“If you crash, every time you go back to that corner there is something physiological there. It does have an impact one way or another, physically or mentally. Maybe that is where he was coming from.

“I do agree with him, but it is also so hard because a fan, unless you race and put yourself in that position, they can never experience what we do. Like those of us who watch boxing or UFC, we are cheering and saying do this, do that, keep fighting, get up, it is just a bit of blood. But we are not the one in that position. If you put us in that position we would act or respond very differently.

“It is just the nature of being a fan in a sport you don’t compete in. It is hard to really grasp or understand. All we can ask for is you are a fan then be a true fan and respect what we do, the skill and the risks.”

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