The weird and wonderful workings of the quadruple world champion’s mind were being discussed inside the gates behind which he will try to extend his 17-point lead over Sebastian Vettel in Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix.
The first question: is the pressure getting into Hamilton’s head?
It is being asked because he accused Ferrari of playing dirty after Silverstone. He then acted up after a technical glitch wrecked his qualifying last week in Hockenheim. He followed those theatrics by citing Nelson Mandela in an Instagram rebuke to his perceived detractors before bemoaning Sky’s supposed lack of reverence during his rain-inspired victory.
The second question: does he need the spark of controversy to thrive on track?
‘The psychological game is the hardest thing,’ admitted Hamilton. ‘I wake up with insecurities. You don’t see me away from the track and that is the most demanding thing — keeping your mind in the game from March to November. The demands on the drivers are higher than ever. The pressure is greater than ever. That is not something I am fazed by, but excited by. I’ve always felt that under pressure I’m at my best so I welcome it.’
Hamilton, at 33, possesses the same impetuous, fluctuating temperament he always did as a young driver but now has social media to parade his thoughts in a way he couldn’t before. He does not seek storms, or require them as a competitive spark, but he cannot avoid them.
Ever contradictory, he withdrew his comments about Ferrari and took down his post about Sky’s coverage, as well he might given that Martin Brundle compared his mastery to Ayrton Senna — Hamilton’s all-time hero. Given to paranoia, yes. Prone to brooding, yes. But Hamilton is proving that whatever bonfires he lights away from the track, he is reliably quick on it, in the one environment where he is entirely comfortable.
As Brundle wrote in his Sky column: ‘Watching Lewis’s actions, listening to him, and reading his words from Hockenheim, he is in a remarkable and probably unusual place. Wherever that is, it’s working in terms of results and comeback drives.’
Vettel, in contrast, has played it cool away from the asphalt but has made four bad mistakes on it — most recently hitting the barriers in Germany — to condemn him to second in the standings. Yesterday in practice, however, Vettel was quickest on a slow track, where Mercedes are not expected to be dominant. Ferrari, meanwhile, are desperate to win as a tribute to their chairman Sergio Marchionne, who died on Wednesday, aged 66. The Ferrari cars bear a black stripe.
Hamilton’s boss Toto Wolff, when asked if he would prefer his champion, for his own sanity, to be out skylarking with friends after winning a race rather than dwelling negatively on TV coverage at home, said: ‘The most important thing is that we give everybody freedom to organise their time as they feel is right, and be non-judgmental.
‘We are all different. Lewis is a four-time world champion and knows pretty well how to extract the maximum performance out of himself.
‘He is in a good frame of mind. His behaviour is authentic. He polarises, and for me this is just fine.’
Wolff knows he is handling delicate china and does not want to drop it or to squeeze it too hard. He has managed Hamilton with supple fingers for six years and credit to him for that. His philosophy is along the lines of: genius lives by its own rules.