Wholesome Hamilton long gone as new challenge awaits

Lewis Hamilton
Lewis Hamilton
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It has been palpable since the announcement was made, but these past few weeks Lewis Hamilton has given off the air of a man who has had a huge weight lifted from his shoulders.

In the build up to Hamilton confirming he was quitting McLaren after a 14-year association and joining Mercedes, a team with just one win in the last three years in Formula 1, the 27-year-old was a grumpy soul at times, a far cry from the driver who first entered the sport.

Perhaps the burden of the most agonising decision of his entire life was bearing down on him, but Hamilton’s demeanour in Italy following a stirring victory from pole position said otherwise.

Hamilton had ticked off another of the historical venues at which he had been longing to triumph in Monza, yet for all the world he gave off the impression it was he who had retired – as happened to team- mate Jenson Button – and it was his titles hopes that had nosedived.

When it came to the customary victory photographic session outside the McLaren brand centre, with all the team wearing the rocket-red victory t-shirts that accompany such an occasion, Hamilton appeared lost and out of sorts.

It was inconceivable Hamilton could be so down at a time when he should have been on a high, but something was clearly not right. It came at the end of a turbulent period for Hamilton as he had been caught sending out inappropriate tweets a week previously during the course of the Belgian Grand Prix, notably sensitive telemetry data.

Then former team principal Eddie Jordan sparked a media frenzy ahead of the Italian race by claiming Hamilton was due to imminently sign for Mercedes.

It was not quite imminent, but the furore surrounding Hamilton that particular weekend pushed him into a corner from which he must have felt trapped, such is the goldfish bowl of driving for McLaren. His character and personality, and the lifestyle he has now chosen for himself given his relationship with Nicole Scherzinger, is all a far cry from the lad who grew up on a housing estate in Stevenage, and in particular, from the man who first started out in F1.

Now, Hamilton’s celebrity sees him hang out with popstars, rappers, the kind of crowd that has clearly taught him urban street slang.

In Spa, Hamilton issued tweets that included reference to expletives that were later removed, while in the United States an acronym for another malediction that adorned the back of his helmet resulted in him replacing it.

The wholesome Hamilton that first entered F1 has long gone, replaced by someone seemingly attempting to find his way in his personal life, to discover his true self, his ideal path.

On the track, there can be no doubt Hamilton remains one of the most competitive, fastest drivers of his generation. In leaving McLaren without the second title triumph his talents fully deserve, the wait to double up on championships may go on for another year at least.

Hamilton may have wanted a challenge, but it could be one to test his patience if Mercedes fail to find a cure for their woes.

The real answer as to whether Hamilton has made the right decision will come after the Australian Grand Prix in March next year.

The clock is already ticking.