Rookie modest after easy victory in 8th U.S. Grand Prix in Indianapolis.

By Tim Cronin
Staff writer

SPEEDWAY, Ind. - Lewis Hamilton enhanced his young legend Sunday where racing legends are secured.

Hamilton, a 22-year-old in his first Formula One season, was barely challenged by McLaren teammate Fernando Alonso, and by nobody else, in winning the 8th United States Grand Prix, his second F1 victory from the pole position in as many weeks.

About the only one in the gallery of about 85,000 fans at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway who wasn’t knocked out by Hamilton’s dominant showing was Hamilton himself.

“I hoped maybe I’d be on a podium at some point,” Hamilton said. “It’s just insane. I find it very hard to come to terms with it.”

Hamilton’s been in the top three, and thus on the podium spraying champagne, in all seven races this season. That’s the equivalent of a golfer finishing in the top three in every start. And winning twice from the pole in F1 as a rookie is the equal of anyone winning the Masters and the U.S. Open in the same year.

Say, like Tiger Woods did in 2002. Woods’ rise is the only valid comparison, so quickly has Hamilton vaulted to the top of his sport.

While a Grand Prix has been won in a driver’s first race, and Hamilton didn’t manage that, no other rookie has sprung from the gate with as much success since the modern world championship series began in 1950. In the process, he’s made Alonso, the F1 titleholder in 2005 and 2006, look like an also-ran.

Hamilton, like Woods of a mixed racial background and identified as a prodigy in his sport from well before his teens, has won twice in his first seven starts, as Woods did after he turned professional in the fall of 1996.

Hamilton assumed the lead in Formula One’s standings from Alonso with his win last week in Montreal. He expanded the advantage on his befuddled teammate to 10 points with their 1-2 finish on the Speedway’s road course, beating him to the finish line by 1.158 seconds.

In leading 66 of the 73 laps, he wiped out the rest of the field so fully, questions from earlier in the week about a possibility of a world championship gained relevance, never mind that Alonso has also won twice in an identical car.

“We’re seven races into the championship,” Hamilton said. “I have to be smart, realize I’m running at the front and there’s a possibility. It’s far too early to think about it, to get any hopes up. I have to remain consistent and try to keep winning. As many points as I gain is good for the team, and for me.”

Hamilton beat Alonso to the first corner and led the first 20 laps, then pitted, but was back in front by the 27th lap, Alonso again trailing. Hamilton’s pit stop on the 51st lap, one circuit after Alonso’s second stop, gave Ferrari’s Felipe Massa a lap at the front, but Hamilton regained the lead when Massa pitted, and Hamilton led the rest of the way.

Only once, going into the first turn on the 39th lap, did Alonso mount a challenge, going side by side, but on the outside. Hamilton answered it by braking later and holding him off going into Turn 2.

“My tires were graining, and he had a go at the end of the straight, but I was able to keep him behind,” Hamilton said.

“It was all fair and square and it was good racing,” Alonso said. “I think the race was decided at the first corner (on the first lap). I didn’t manage to get past.”

And that was that, especially with Hamilton never putting a wheel wrong, while Alonso skidded out of Turn 8 into the grass once in trying to press him.

For McLaren, having Hamilton and Alonso 1-2 is the best of all worlds - especially with Ferrari’s duo of Massa and Kimi Raikkonen, who finished third and fourth and are lined up that way in the standings, 19 and 26 points behind Hamilton.

For Alonso, hired from Renault to be McLaren’s top driver, it has to be difficult.

“I think we knew from the winter tests that Lewis was very quick,” Alonso said. “So, why not fight for victories, podiums and the championship? On the other hand, it has been a surprise for me, for everybody to see him doing so well and leading at this point.

“But I have big confidence. The championship will be decided at the end. I have confidence that I can do it.”

Perhaps, but the smart money is on Hamilton, who in the course of two amazing races has gone from challenger to contender to the man to beat.

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