Newly-crowned three-time world champion Lewis Hamilton hit back at criticism of his jetset lifestyle on Friday by outpacing Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg in opening free practice for Sunday’s season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
The 30-year-old, attacked by his former McLaren team boss Ron Dennis for doing things that ‘would not have been allowed’ under his regime and told by Rosberg not to complain about the handling of their Mercedes cars, produced his riposte on the spectacular Yas Marina circuit.
In brilliant sunshine, Hamilton clocked a best lap in one minute and 43.754 seconds, ahead of Rosberg’s best of 1:43.895 as the German began his bid to claim a sixth straight pole ahead of his rival and complete a hat-trick of victories.
Finn Kimi Raikkonen was third for Ferrari ahead of Russian Daniil Kvayt of Red Bull, four-time champion German Sebastian Vettel in the second Ferrari and compatriot Nico Hulkenberg of Force India.
Australian Daniel Ricciardo was seventh for Red Bull, who finally confirmed they have agreed an engine-supply deal for next year, but without formally identifying the supplier.
It is widely believed to be Renault, but the details are delayed because the engines may be re-badged. Renault are poised to complete a take-over of Lotus, whose Abu Dhabi Grand Prix bills were settled by F1 commercial ring-master Bernie Ecclestone.
Hamilton’s speed came despite his grumbles through the session about the performance of his Mercedes car. He began by complaining about the seating position and ended the session saying “the car is not feeling good.”
All of this, however, may just be part of a psychological battle between him and Rosberg as the champion attempts to re-boot his motivation after clinching his third championship at last month’s US Grand Prix, since when his team-mate has reigned supreme.
His attitude would certainly have been pricked by the comments from Dennis, who gave him a chance with McLaren as a raw teenager and his Formula One debut in 2007.
“If he was at McLaren, he wouldn’t be behaving the way he is because he wouldn’t be allowed to,” Dennis told The Guardian newspaper. “He’s shaking off some chains he didn’t want to have…”
Since leaving McLaren in 2012, Hamilton has won two world titles to add to that he won for Dennis’s team in 2008 and enjoyed greater freedom in his private life. He has thrown himself into a wide range of off-circuit interests including music and fashion, and enjoyed a more apparent party-lifestyle.
At the recent Brazilian Grand Prix, he arrived 24 hours later than scheduled following a late night road accident in Monte Carlo and after suffering exhaustion.
“I look at him with mixed emotions,” added Dennis. “It was an interesting experience for everybody and it wasn’t completely smooth and harmonious and I don’t approve of everything he does or says.
“But, nevertheless, great athletes are great because of the sacrifices they have to make – and, sometimes, sacrifices are in a very formative part of their childhood.”
“They don’t always emerge with the all the right social process, or behaviour, or tendencies, that you like.”