LONDON • Ron Dennis, the man who steered Lewis Hamilton to the pinnacle of Formula One, is worried that the driver he regards as a son is losing his way.
Only days after Hamilton admitted that his new hard-partying lifestyle had taken its toll since he won his third world championship last month, the chief executive of McLaren said the 30-year-old is making up for lost time after missing out on a "formative" part of his childhood because he had dedicated his life to motor-racing.
Hamilton says he has felt free since ditching McLaren to move to Mercedes in 2013. Dennis, who gave Hamilton his Formula One break in 2007, is notorious for his strict codes of behaviour.
"If he was at McLaren, he wouldn't be behaving the way he is because he wouldn't be allowed to," Dennis, 68, said.
"He is shaking off some chains he didn't want to have."
Concern has been growing for Hamilton's increasingly wild lifestyle, particularly since he crashed into three parked cars in the middle of the night only a few days before the Brazilian Grand Prix this month.
The circumstances of the crash, which damaged his £1.5 million (S$3.18 million) Pagani Zonda supercar, have not been fully explained, particularly as it happened at 3.30am on the streets of Monte Carlo.
Hamilton spoke candidly to a small group of reporters about the partying and drinking that had worn him out, the kind of admission that worried Anthony, his father - who has not been seen at a Grand Prix this year - and would have furrowed Dennis' brow if the driver had still been at McLaren.
Speaking to a conference in London on Thursday, Dennis explained how he felt like a "surrogate father" to Hamilton, but added: "I look at (Hamilton) with mixed emotions. It was an interesting experience and it wasn't completely smooth and harmonious and I don't approve of everything he does or says.
"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, (so) they don't always emerge with all the right social process or behaviour or tendencies that you (might) like."
Hamilton is in Abu Dhabi for the final Grand Prix of the season with something to prove. Since clinching his third title in the United States, he has gone off the boil, with Nico Rosberg, his Mercedes team-mate, winning in Mexico and Brazil.
Hamilton denies that he has lost focus and instead will want to stop the psychological rot on a track where he has won twice, including last season.
Victory would present a symmetrical finish to a long season for the Briton.
The man who drives car No. 44 would take win No. 44 under the blazing lights of the Yas Marina Circuit.
THE TIMES, LONDON, THE GUARDIAN