SHANGHAI, Oct 6 (Reuters) McLaren's Lewis Hamilton found out just how lonely it is at the top when his driving was discussed by his peers at the Chinese Grand Prix.
The British rookie, who could win the world title tomorrow, was accused of erratic driving behind the safety car and contributing to a collision between Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber at a rainy Fuji in Japan last weekend.
The 22-year-old world championship leader went unpunished after the stewards' inquiry which followed a drivers' meeting but the frosty reception from his rivals yesterday clearly made an impression.
''Yesterday was an interesting day for me, I sat in the drivers' briefing and everyone basically had rifles ready to shoot me,'' said Hamilton, the first black driver in Formula One.
''It was a strange feeling but I've had it various times in my life for obvious reasons.
''It was a bit disappointing because I knew a few of the drivers there and I didn't expect them to say certain things.'' Hamilton, who will start from pole and needs only to beat his McLaren team mate Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen to become the first driver to win the world title in his first season, said he would use the experience to his own advantage.
''I just sat there and listened and I'll try to do a better job next time and if they're not happy with that then I don't know what I can do,'' he added.
''Things like yesterday can only make me stronger ... the biggest thing I've learnt to do this year is take the biggest lumps of negative energy and turn it into positives.'' So would the criticism make his triumph any the less sweet were he to clinch the title tomorrow? ''No, not at all,'' he said. ''At the end of the day, I'm not winning the championship through luck.
''I've worked really hard this year as have the team and I've done the best job I could with the car.'' Even on the eve of possibly being crowned Formula One's youngest champion, Hamilton was still struggling to come to terms with his dream debut season.
''Never in a million years did I think I'd be challenging for the world championship in my first year.'' REUTERS PDS HS1737