/ 15 October 2008

Hamilton optimistic as he rebuffs arrogance claims

Lewis Hamilton is optimistic that he won’t blow his world-title chances in China this weekend and has rebuffed claims that he is arrogant.

The 23-year-old Briton, who admitted he made mistakes at last Sunday’s Japan Grand Prix that cost him dearly, goes into the Chinese Grand Prix five points clear ahead of championship rival, Ferrari’s Felipe Massa, with two races left.

Last year, rookie Hamilton led the title race by 17 points at the same stage only to see Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen steal the championship from under his nose at the last grand prix in Brazil.

”Last year Ferrari were very strong in both China and Brazil. But this year I think we have closed the gap on them at circuits where they were always traditionally quick,” said McLaren’s star driver.

”But, equally, Ferrari have closed the gap on us on tracks where McLaren-Mercedes were always usually quick.

”But I’m optimistic about the future. I think we will be quite strong in China this weekend and closer to Ferrari than we were last year.

”The same goes for Brazil — so these next two races could show the fans some of the closest racing of the season.”

Hamilton’s impetuous driving in Japan, where he was slapped with a drive-through penalty for impeding Raikkonen at the start of the race, sparked suggestions that he was arrogant and a danger to others on the track.

A report quoting him as saying he felt he was now better than the legendary Ayrton Senna added to the perception.

But Hamilton, who needs to score six points more than Massa on Sunday to become the youngest driver ever to lift the world title, said he was not the person he was made out to be.

”I would never say I was better than anyone else. But I am a Formula One driver, and all of us have to believe in ourselves to get to where we are,” he said.

”You have to have that belief to go out and win, and that’s what helps you strive for better performance and to achieve more in your life.

”I look at the other drivers and I want to beat them. I would never say, ‘I’m better than you.’ I just think that all these guys are the best and to be the best I have to beat them. That’s how every racing driver sees things.”

He said the Senna comparison was taken out of context.

”Sometimes I’ve said things that have either come out the wrong way or been taken out of context, so people get a different feeling of what I’ve said when I haven’t expressed myself correctly.”

Britain’s last world champion, Damon Hill, said Hamilton needed to rein in his ”impatience” and stay cool on Sunday.

”Lewis is impatient to win that first title, but you can’t force it,” Hill, who won the world title in 1996, told BBC Sport.

”There’s no question about his speed or ability, he just needs to stay cool and let it happen.

”Sunday’s race [in Japan] was a lesson, and Lewis learns very quickly.”

McLaren team boss Ron Dennis said he wouldn’t ask Hamilton to curb his aggression off the start line and into the first corners of the remaining races in China and Brazil.

”He’s a racing driver, and that’s what makes him the driver he is,” Dennis said.

”He’s going to fight for positions at every opportunity, and you’re not going to stop him doing that.” — AFP