ISTANBUL, Turkey – Lewis Hamilton gave a thumbs up after leaving his car, indicating everything was OK despite his problems in the Turkish Grand Prix.
But was it?
After leading his McLaren teammate Fernando Alonso by 14 points four races ago, Hamilton’s lead is down to five points. And it would probably be closer had Alonso not been penalized at the Hungarian Grand Prix won by Hamilton.
It seems Hamilton’s storybook start is running into bumps.
For the first nine races he was on the podium, establishing a rookie record.
Then the next three races included a crash, a row with Alonso during qualifying in Hungary and a shredded tire.
He is also threatening to leave Britain because of media intrusions into his private life.
Meanwhile, Alonso has routinely been ahead of Hamilton and is looking toward the last five races, among them the Brazilian Grand Prix where he has clinched his last two titles.
Though Felipe Massa may have won on Sunday, Alonso may look back on the Turkish Grand Prix as the turning point in his duel with Hamilton.
Hamilton was running third in the race when his right front tire punctured. He dropped to fifth when he pitted and Alonso to took over third and finished there. Hamilton was able to get back to fifth.
So what could have been a 10-point difference in the standings – Alonso was sixth after the first lap – was only a five-point gap at the end of the race, 84-79.
Hamilton insisted all is not lost heading into the last five races: the Italian GP Sept. 9, followed by the Belgian Grand Prix a week later, then Japan, China and Brazil finish the season.
The 22-year-old rookie thinks things are reasonably good heading to the Italian race at Monza.
“I feel confident that we have a good package for Monza, and we’ll be able to evaluate it during this week’s test,” Hamilton said. “But there are five races to go and it’s not over yet. I’m still five points clear, which is good.
“Fortunately, this is not a disaster. It’s just a little bit of a problem. It’s not over. Don’t worry.”
Even if things on the track are smoothed out, there are problems off it.
First there is the difference of opinion with Alonso after the Hungarian qualifying fiasco. Alonso had the best qualifying and would have gotten the pole – almost guaranteeing him the victory on the tight Hungarian circuit.
However officials ruled that he delayed Hamilton enough for Hamilton not to get a chance for another fast lap. Alonso went down to sixth on the starting grid. Hamilton moved up to the pole and won the race.
The pair didn’t speak until Turkey and then gave differing accounts.
“I apologized. He apologized,” Hamilton said of the meeting.
Alonso said otherwise.
“He (Hamilton) apologized to me in case he had done anything wrong, and so I asked him if he thought I had done anything wrong as well,” Alonso said. “He told me ‘No,’ so I did not have anything to apologize for.”
Then there is Hamilton’s irritation with the media attention and his threat to move from Britain.
“I’m definitely contemplating living outside the (United Kingdom),” Hamilton said to reporters.
“I’ve always dreamt of living in London, but it’s becoming more and more difficult. Every time I go to London, cameras appear from God knows where.”
He complained about the photos of his vacation aboard the yacht of McLaren co-owner Mansour Ojjeh and speculation about his relationship with the boss’s daughter.
“My whole holiday was in the papers,” Hamilton said.
Ron Dennis, the other co-owner of the team, also complained.
“I know for a fact that all of the activities Lewis was involved in were him just having fun with Mansour’s family,” Dennis said. “They text each other, they are in the same age group, they are of the same era.
“Lewis’ private life is private, and it is disturbing to see when it is so heavily distorted because that is just not fair.”
Hamilton said he looked to Alonso as an example – one of the few times he has gone to his teammate for help.
“I know Fernando finds it almost impossible to move around freely in Spain,” Hamilton said. “I’ve discussed that with him but didn’t expect it to happen to me.”
Alonso is mostly keeping his feelings under wraps.
He has reason to feel confident. Last year with Michael Schumacher breathing down his neck, Alonso had a first and two seconds in the last three races to clinch the title in Brazil.
Meanwhile, Schumacher’s luck ran out. Schumacher’s car broke down in China and he didn’t score a point and then he had a flat in Brazil.
Hamilton had car trouble in the European Grand Prix and didn’t score a point, and he had a flat tire in Turkey.