Controversy has followed Lewis Hamilton with all the zeal of a stalking Fernando Alonso, ever since he came into Formula One 2007.
He has the grace to burst into a huge smile when the subject is mentioned. He knows what's coming. A probing into his war with Alonso at McLaren in 2007. And into “Liegate”, when he misled stewards about the orders he received to bend the rules and pass Trulli under the yellow flag in Australia last year. Then there's “Hoongate” only last weekend, after an incident that prompted an Australian politician to describe Hamilton as a “d**khead”.
A policeman at the scene summarised that as driving in an “ov-exuberant manner” for a traffic misdemeanour on the streets outside the Melbourne circuit.
“I don't know if I'm the one who seems to have more problems than anyone else,” he says, sounding genuinely bemused. “I guess that's what comes of being competitive. Sometimes you let your true character come out for one second, and you're not really allowed to.”
That certainly seems to be what happened on the streets of Melbourne. The full details are, for the record, as follows. Bruno Senna was in his road car, waiting to turn at a set of traffic lights on the street just outside the circuit. As red turned to green, a certain young former world champion was approaching in his Mercedes. It must have been too good an opportunity to miss: Hamilton pulled a power slide, right across Senna's bow, beating him into the turn. Irresponsible? Well, Mark Webber has described Melbourne
as a ‘Nanny State'. Petrol-heads everywhere have asked: ‘isn't that what young racing drivers are meant to do?’
Hamilton certainly drove exuberantly a champion's race as he climbed from seventh to third place before a crucial decision on tyre strategy dropped him back to fifth and an attack from Webber dropped him finally to sixth on the day when team-mate Jenson Button won.
His racing was a joy to watch, the ultimate answer to all the criticism he'd encountered on a bruising weekend. “The way the weekend was going I just prayed on it, and focused, and gathered myself in the best way to prepare myself for Sunday and really just hoped that I could shine through with a good performance. That's what I do best.”
The passion he brings to his driving became clear in the radio conversation he had with his team, and it was very much heat of the moment stuff, illuminating in terms of what you have to bring to your game “When you're in the car it's incredible what our minds are capable of.
“When I'm in the car the passion I have for winning, the drive and determination which I've had all my life, I don't know where it comes from. But it's really what's got me here and won me the world championship, what pulls me through weekends like that.”
In some ways, Button winning was the worst possible result for Hamilton, but he doesn't see it that way. “Jenson has done an incredible job,” he says immediately. “And he is so easy to get on with. There's no negative energy whatsoever, it's really fantastic.”
And despite being angry initially over his crew's choice of strategy in Melbourne, he insists that he was happy for his team-mate when he won.
“I was very supportive of him, and at some stage when I win I'm sure he'll be supportive of me.”
So there wasn't even a hint of green-eyed monster after Melbourne?
“I was cool straight away when I went to the garage,” he says quickly, like it really matters to him. “All the members of the team collectively added to that result, and while Jenson did the job out there we all contributed to it so we could all share the success.”