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MARTIN SAMUEL: Disillusioned Lewis Hamilton could be on his last lap

‘OK, Lewis that’s P10,’ said Mercedes engineer Pete Bonnington. ‘Sorry about that. It’s a bit of a s*** result given all the hard work.’

Hamilton’s response was telling. ‘Is there even a point for that position?’ he asked. It had never really troubled him before. P10, P9, the mid-table numbers. Later, he was asked about returning to Saudi Arabia next year. ‘I just want to go home,’ he said.

Two careless asides but they should worry Mercedes. Increasingly, it feels as if we may be seeing the last of Hamilton. That this year could be his underwhelming farewell to the sport.

He does not seem a driver who will be happy just going round, battling his team-mate for seventh spot as Fernando Alonso did for some time on Sunday.

Lewis Hamilton, who finished 10th, is consoled by Mercedes engineer Pete Bonnington (left)

Lewis Hamilton, who finished 10th, is consoled by Mercedes engineer Pete Bonnington (left)

Hamilton has won so much more than those down the grid, stayed at the top so much longer. He’s 37. He’s competitive or he’s nowhere. And certainly he’s not where he wants to be right now.

Professionally, or geographically. No driver seems less enamoured with some of Formula One’s new locations than Hamilton. It does not help that his last four races have been two trips to Saudi Arabia with Abu Dhabi and Bahrain between but there seems a certain weariness when asked again about gay rights, human rights, repression, imprisonment.

Not that he’s tired of the subjects, more that he is often the one driver required to speak out, the spokesman for his generation. That status lends itself to other questions. ‘Why are we here?’ And, eventually: ‘Why am I here?’

There was an explosion at an oil facility in Jeddah on Friday evening which caused real concern

There was an explosion at an oil facility in Jeddah on Friday evening which caused real concern

The incident led to a meeting between all drivers as to whether the race should go ahead with Hamilton (left) among those questioning why the sport is racing in certain territories

The incident led to a meeting between all drivers as to whether the race should go ahead with Hamilton (left) among those questioning why the sport is racing in certain territories 

Winning, he can perhaps rationalise it. A chequered flag and a rainbow helmet – that’s a powerful statement in a country where an individual’s choice can warrant the death penalty.

Yet P10? Hamilton did not even know its sporting worth, let alone the power of its reach. While the car in P10 is finishing, P1 is doing doughnuts for the cameras or screaming into the team radio. P10 is an also-ran.

And it is a long time since Hamilton was an also-ran. He has never failed to win at least one race in any season, never finished below fifth in any car. Even in the fallow years at McLaren – fourth or fifth in four consecutive years – he still won 12 Grands Prix. Despite the podium finish in Bahrain, a victory for Mercedes is unthinkable right now.

That may change, of course. If Mercedes get their mojo back, so may Hamilton. Yet disillusionment with last year’s conclusion has given way to disillusionment with much more this season. Hamilton was one of the drivers pushing unsuccessfully for the race to be called off after Friday’s attack on Jeddah by Houthi rebels.

That was no doubt part of the reason for his miserable exit. Yet if this malaise continues, how long before Hamilton says he wants to go home – and stays there?

SORRY WILL, BUT WILLIAMS NEVER RESORTED TO VIOLENCE

Clutching his Oscar having just marched on stage to physically attack host Chris Rock for making a joke, Will Smith’s speech drew comparisons between himself and Richard Williams, the man he portrays in the film King Richard.

Williams insisted on only the highest standards and was powerfully driven without becoming violent, despite extremes of provocation worse than any one-liner. 

In other words: he was a lot better than that.

Hollywood actor Will Smith (right) slapped Chris Rock (left) over the comedian's joke about the haircut of his wife Jada Pinkett Smith, who suffers with alopecia, at the Oscars on Sunday night

Hollywood actor Will Smith (right) slapped Chris Rock (left) over the comedian’s joke about the haircut of his wife Jada Pinkett Smith, who suffers with alopecia, at the Oscars on Sunday night

BUYERS BEWARE! BALE DOES SAVE HIS BEST FOR WALES

There seems an awful lot of drama in Gareth Bale’s relationship with Real Madrid. First, the overwrought outburst in Marca labelling him a ‘parasite’ and then his response which lectured on athletes’ mental health issues, in the face of media criticism. The truth is somewhere in between. 

Bale has been a very good player, at times, for Real Madrid, but has long prioritised playing for Wales, which supporters of a proud club find insulting.

It was no different at Tottenham last season. He used them to ensure his readiness for the European Championship. The Bale we see at his best in a Wales shirt was seldom witnessed in white.

Those who considered his performance against Austria evidence of what he could do for a top club given the opportunity are deluded. His Wales performances are totally different to what he delivers in club football and have been for years.

Even the famous 14 trophies he won at Madrid are not quite what they seem. He was not even on the bench for the 2016 UEFA Super Cup win over Sevilla. He was a 77th-minute substitute in the 2017 Champions League final. A 79th-minute substitute in the 2017 Club World Cup final. And he only featured in the first leg of the 2017 Supercopa win. 

Bale started 17 games when Real Madrid won LaLiga in 2016-17 and 12 when they won the title in 2019-20. In both seasons there were 12 players or more who started more games for Madrid.

Gareth Bale produced a scintillating display to seal a 2-1 win for Wales against Austria

Gareth Bale produced a scintillating display to seal a 2-1 win for Wales against Austria

Marca mocked up Bale as a mosquito feeding on the Real Madrid crest in their attack on him

Marca mocked up Bale as a mosquito feeding on the Real Madrid crest in their attack on him

Make no mistake it is still a brilliant career. He played from the whistle in two Champions League victories and his two goals as a substitute won the 2018 final.

Yet Madrid have had a lot of great players in that time. One can understand if true reverence is reserved for those whose performances were of greater consistency, with greater regularity, and who did not claim to prefer playing golf, even as a joke.

It would be foolish to say Bale has disappointed, given what he has won, and earned, out of football. But nor should we pretend his turn against Austria is what he has been producing week in, week out, for his club. Madrid have not seen a performance like that from Bale for close on four years. No club will.

Buyer beware. He saves his best for his country and has done for years.

BARTY WASTES NO TIME

Well, that didn’t take long. 

Wednesday: Ash Barty retires. Thursday: Barty refuses to rule out a return. 

‘Never say never,’ she insists. As stated on these pages: it’s not the worst life, playing tennis. 

CHIEFS’ CHANGE IS A HEAD SCRATCHER

It was the end of January when Exeter Chiefs agreed to change their branding and logo, after unrelenting pressure over cultural appropriation. Out go the Native American themes, the headdress, the tomahawks – in comes the visual identity of the local Dumnonii Celtic tribe.

There were 6,222 signatures on the petition calling the club racist and demanding change, started by ‘supporters of Exeter Chiefs’.

Yet strangely, while Exeter’s compliance should have placated the many fans supposedly boycotting in protest, the Chiefs two biggest gates of the Premiership season come from before the change was agreed. And while gates are up by an average of 468 since the rebrand announcement, that is perhaps better explained by an exciting end to the season and the fact three of those four games were against teams vying with Exeter for a place in the top six. 

So, in all likelihood, Exeter agreed to change their identity to appease people who in the main never set foot in the place. It probably makes more sense to honour a local tribe but the grave offence was another confected pile of piffle from busybodies like Ben Bradshaw, the local MP, who is seen on the premises about as often as Hiawatha.

EXPERIENCE IS A BIG DEAL FOR RADUCANU

If Emma Raducanu’s recent struggles could be tackled simply by ditching the Porsche, she would be very lucky. Unfortunately, it’s somewhat more complex.

That her exit from the Miami Open coincided with news of another endorsement – her eighth major contract – was unhappy timing but the Porsche deal wasn’t the reason she lost.

Chances are, her opponents have now had time to study her style, her strengths and weaknesses, and are better equipped to take her on. Also, they are ahead on tournament experience and practice hours, which count. 

When Raducanu plays her next clay-court game as a professional, it will also be her first. We cannot pretend this is insignificant.

The endorsements are an easy target but if they were the real reason for her dip in form, what lies ahead would be much less of a challenge.

Emma Raducanu was beaten at the Miami Open after losing in three sets to Katerina Siniakova

Emma Raducanu was beaten at the Miami Open after losing in three sets to Katerina Siniakova

LOSING COMMONWEALTH GAMES WOULD BE NO GREAT SHAME 

Prince William says he may never succeed the Queen as head of the Commonwealth. If that means the end to the Commonwealth Games – the school sports day of international competition – it is something we can all get behind.

Bad news for UK Athletics, though. How will the modern colonialists manage without the conveniently claimed Commonwealth athletes, such as Shara Proctor and Zharnel Hughes, from the island of Anguilla?

IT’S SUCH A MESS… RESET THE RESET

Back from the Caribbean, beaten in all the moments that mattered, English cricket needs to reset the reset. First, all parties involved in the decision not to pick James Anderson and Stuart Broad should never be allowed near team selection again.

If that is Andrew Strauss, so be it. If that is Joe Root, he goes, too. Having Chris Woakes and Craig Overton as the opening bowlers on tour showed calamitous judgment. It was hardly a surprise that Mark Wood and Ollie Robinson lacked the necessary fitness to tour.

If this was about empowering Root, never has he looked weaker. What advice is being passed on to the very promising Zak Crawley, dismissed the same way in just about every Test? The batting collapses under the faintest pressure and as for the bowling plans that Broad and Anderson were said to have ignored in Australia, what were they? 

England's batting collapse and defeat in Grenada has made Joe Root look weaker than ever

England’s batting collapse and defeat in Grenada has made Joe Root look weaker than ever

So many times England surrendered the initiative, not least in Grenada as West Indies’ tail eased past the tourists first-innings total. Root sounded like a man reading from a book of management cliches before a ball had been bowled in Antigua and finished much the same way. 

He says he is still the man for the job. He isn’t. He’s an outstanding batsman but a mediocre captain and needs to be relieved of the duty before it begins to affect the one part of his game England cannot be without.

Ben Stokes would be the obvious choice to succeed him, had he not struggled with mental health issues last year. It would be a brave man who heaped more pressure on his shoulders in those circumstances, or certainly it would require assurances that Stokes is in no position to give. To pick a county captain who is not of Test standard also appears fraught with danger. 

England, with one Test win in 17, are finding it hard enough competing with 11 men, let alone 10. One solution would be the temporary promotion of either Anderson or Broad, yet how embarrassing would that be for the ECB, having dropped them? It’s a mess. Wholly predictable but a mess nonetheless. 

AUSSIES DEFEAT SHOULD BE A WARNING TO ENGLAND

Brian Moore’s suggestion that England women’s rugby team should play against the men’s Under 20 and Under 18 sides, even in structured training, is well intentioned but perhaps over-ambitious.

As the only fully professional squad in the women’s Six Nations, Moore fears England are not tested by walkovers like the weekend’s 57-5 victory against Scotland. And he’s right. It’s no preparation for a World Cup.

Yet in 2016 the Australian women’s football team had a similar plan. Targeting a medal in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics they arranged a game with Newcastle Jets Under 16s. The women did not have their overseas players but expected a close match. The boys won 7-0. Physicality matters.

Now think of England’s Under 20 men. Ten of the current squad have turned 20, the same age as Orlando Bailey, who was in England’s Six Nations squad, and a year younger than five players also picked by Eddie Jones.

Will Hobson, a prop for England’s Under 20s, weighs 125 kilos. We have to be realistic about what constitutes responsible preparation, even in training. Either the game would have to be played without intensity, defeating the object, or there would be risk of injury. Even a male Under 18 player might prove dangerously strong. Moore is right to identify a problem for England’s women but the risk-reward is surely too great. 

NEW COACH WILL BE NOTHING LIKE EDDIE  

The RFU will seek an English successor to Eddie Jones after the next World Cup. Of course they will. They are in the same cycle as the Football Association now, always desiring the opposite of what went before.

Martin Johnson was an England legend and World Cup winning captain. Stuart Lancaster was a schoolmaster with expertise in development. Eddie Jones was a gun-for-hire coach with previous experience on several continents. So the next guy will be English, probably club-based.

At the moment, though, there is nobody better than Jones – until we appoint his complete opposite next year.

England are already progressing with their succession plans for life after Eddie Jones as coach

England are already progressing with their succession plans for life after Eddie Jones as coach 

EXCEPTION TO THE RULE? 

Since lifting the trophy in 2006, Italy have qualified for a single World Cup – in 2014 – and won a single game in a World Cup finals, against England in Manaus that year. 

It seems what happened last summer may have been the exception. 

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