Mercedes' F1 star opens up to mid-day in Singapore on his target for the remainder of the season, his troubled partnership with Nico Rosberg and his idol, the late Brazilian Ayrton Senna
After spending several seasons on the sidelines, watching Sebastian Vettel sail to championship triumph after championship triumph in his invincible Red Bull, 2014 was finally supposed to be Lewis Hamilton’s year.
Mercedes GP's Lewis Hamilton
Sat in the most dominant car he’s had all career, the season offered Hamilton his best chance of adding to that sole title he won all the way back in 2008.
But instead, marked by some sublime wins, an increasingly bitter rivalry with former friend and team-mate Nico Rosberg and crippling luck that has blunted his charge, Hamilton’s season has been far from the straightforward march to the title that it should have.
Mercedes GP's Lewis Hamilton drives during practice ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 22 in Spa. Pic/Getty Images.
mid-day sat down with the former world champion ahead of the Singapore Grand Prix for a wide-ranging chat about -- among other things -- his season, his relationship with Rosberg and the legacy he would like to leave behind.
To being with, how are you feeling heading into this weekend? The psychological balance in Monza shifted in your favour.
People keep asking about momentum that we gain and do I feel like I have… I think one race doesn’t create momentum. I think it almost resets things and puts things to a positive footstep. So I guess it’s a bit like, maybe I can relate it to maybe boxing. You see boxers are either on the front foot or back foot. When they’re on the back foot they’re moving back and they’re more prone to a hit or a mistake. And that’s the kind of thing when you’re racing, you have a good race, it kind of puts you on that front foot and it really feels like you’re ready for the next one. That’s really what a good win does.
Lewis, everyone says that there is no doubt you’re a great driver. But as a person you polarise people a bit. Why do you think that is the case?
I don’t know. People have opinions. People like things and people don’t like things. I’m sure at the time it’s from things you say, things that are taken out of context. For sure a lot of things that are misplaced and misunderstood from interviews over a period of time, people don’t like how it sounds. And sometimes it’s actually something else. I’m pretty sure the majority of the people that I’ve ever met, that I’ve spent more than 20 seconds with have kind of hopefully seen that I’m just as normal as they are.
Do you think it’s up to the public to judge you because as you mentioned most of the people don’t know you very well?
I don’t think it’s up to anyone to judge anyone. The only one person that can judge me is God. I don’t judge people. I don’t watch movies or TV and say, ‘Hey! He’s doing that.’ It’s up to them what they do, it doesn’t affect me. I just focus on myself and my family and it doesn’t affect me if you don’t like me.
That’s your opinion. As long as there’s no negativity, you know. To hate, really hate, someone they would have had to have done something really bad like hurt your family or something. But as I said you know I think there’s things in my past – and I’m sure in everyone’s past – there’s things that you wish you would have said or done in another way, there’s times that you wish you would have reacted in a different way.
And I think people perhaps forget that we are constantly behind a camera, I’m having this interview with you and there’s a camera right in my face. So for every frown or expression, they’ll write a story of how I was smiling or how I was focussed even though I’ve just got a straight face. So it’s not easy and I’ve not always handled in the right way. But one thing for sure is I’m able to put my hand up and say sometimes I’ve done it wrong.
Is this the toughest championship fight you’ve been involved in? You’re sat in the most dominant car you’ve had all career but it’s not been a breeze this season.
I would say this is probably, as far as I can remember, the toughest season. Look at 2012 you know – I had a car that could have won the championship but it died a lot so we lost a lot of points and that was tough in itself. But, no, this one feels different because we’re still in a fighting position for the championship, there’s been a lot of issues through the year, a lot more on my side. But what I really feel positive about is how whatever’s been fired at me I’ve dodged it all, managed to recover from it. Like when I started last, I finished third. I wouldn’t have had it any other way this season.
You did an interview last year coming into the Mercedes team where you said that a championship fight brings its own stresses on a relationship between team-mates but as long as the respect is there then it’s good. Do you still feel you have that respect between you and Nico despite all of the issues?
I think respect is something that is easily broken or is easily lost and trust also is something that’s easily lost. But if you build a solid foundation, just as with any relationship, if you build a solid foundation you still have the foundation to work on and I feel that’s where we are. We’ve been racing since we were 13 years old, so we’ve got a good solid foundation back then that would take a lot to damage that.
So you can go back to being friends once the dust settles and once the heat of the battle dies down a little bit?
Coming into the season, or last season, people talked up this whole friend thing. When we were kids, we were really, really good friends. Then he had a different life and I had a different life. It’s like when you go to college and you have friends there and they go on and have a family and you go off and live in a different town. But you always know you had the past friendship. And the past… even when the season ends we’ll still be team-mates and know we have to work with each other again next year as well and we’ll hopefully do even better next year.
Can you describe how you’ve grown over the years, from initially approaching Ron Dennis as a kid to becoming the 2008 champion to championship contender now?
It’s a long story but trying to keep it short… I think just every year having to do a lot of soul-searching, to really learn from the mistakes and as mistakes that I’ve made several times, really trying to find a good balance in my life so I can come to the weekend and have that positivity, that aura that you hear that Ayrton Senna had.
You can’t force it, it’s nothing you can force. So if you’re little bit immature, you’re a little bit immature and eventually you’ll grow out of it. I’m almost 30-years-old so hopefully – there’s a lot to learn moving forwards – but hopefully today you will see that hopefully I’m a much wiser man, hopefully someone who makes better decisions, says hopefully better things, reacts differently.
And I’m noticing it a lot as well. Because you ask about the new driver for Toro Rosso next year and I notice how I’m speaking now more as… I remember when I was young and I remember how I wanted to be the first, youngest one there and I was constantly pushing and pushing and pushing. So when I look back I’m so grateful that I got there, I was held back and I waited because when I came in I was really… if I had gone in any earlier, I wouldn’t be sitting here in front of you today. And that’s just with age I have that view.
You won the title in 2008. Since then you’ve had to watch as Sebastian Vettel has won four. Is that frustrating knowing that your talent deserves more and does it make you want this world championship all the more badly?
I think Formula One’s an interesting sport. It’s so much fun, there’s so many great things about it. But unlike tennis or golf where it’s you and your club or you and your racquet, in Formula One you could have prepared the best that you’ve ever prepared, fit and mentally prepared, and you could have a bad car.
I’m sure there’re drivers up here that are as fit and better prepared than they’ve ever been but their car is a couple of seconds off, or a second off, or half a second half and there’s nothing you can do but maximise it in that moment even if it means coming fifth, fifth is your maximum.
I mean it’s been fantastic. What a great feeling to come into these races knowing that we have a car that we can fight with. This has been a dream for me. Since I won the championship, 2009 I had a terrible car, maybe 2011 -- if I performed like I am now -- maybe I would have been close to Sebastian.
2012 I think was a really good year and we should have won. But this is the year and so I’m really just trying to make sure that I do every single thing I can right. But look, you know, the season’s gone so quick already, time’s gone by so fast, only six races left. I just want to look back at the season and say, ‘You know what I did every single thing I could in the best way I could.’
You know what I mean? And I look back at these races and I honestly feel like I’ve got everything out of me that was physically… it wasn’t like if I had prepared better for that one, I really feel I’ve done up until now as much as I could have done and that’s a really good feeling.
Doesn’t this approach put a bit more pressure on you?
Maybe. But that’s just my whole philosophy. As a driver I’ve always done that. I’ve always been very, very hard on myself. I don’t need anyone else to tell me that I just messed up or anything like that. I’ve always been known to be very hard on myself and whilst for others who are not so hard on themselves it might be easier for them or probably a better route, it’s just how I’m built so can’t change it, I’m not going to try and change it.
But I have learned to pass things much quicker. In the past it would take me weeks to get past things. But now, as you saw in Silverstone I was really devastated after qualifying, popped back the next day. So that took me a long time to manage to learn how to do that.
Fernando Alonso has been in a similar situation as you in the last few years. He said earlier this year that he likes the respect he’s getting but he’d rather have the trophies. How would you like to be remembered? For the trophies or for the impact you made as a person, as a sportsman as Senna did?
I think ultimately everyone would love to be like Ayrton. He was in a perfect era, in a perfect time where his whole heart and passion and charisma came out in such a nice way. I think if any driver told you they wouldn’t want to be like Ayrton or seem like that in the years to come would be lying to you.
He’s always been my favourite driver and I really hope that when I pass or twenty years after my racing I hope people can say, ‘Years ago in Mercedes there was this driver and he was just like this.’ And you know I hope that it’s a positive remembrance.
It’s more about the impact you made than the trophies for you?
Yeah, I think it’s more long-term. Trophies are wonderful things but that long-life is much better and it’s the same thing as racing, you know. A win feels fantastic. I didn’t go and celebrate my win in the last race because I’m thinking I want the championship. That’s the win that I want. And I won’t celebrate till I get that.
Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton set the fastest time at the end of the first day of practice for Sunday's Singapore Grand Prix.
The Briton lapped the floodlit 5.065 kilometer Marina Bay street-circuit in one minute 47.490 seconds, swapping places with Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso who had set the pace ahead of Hamilton in the first session.
Hamilton’s team-mate and championship rival Nico Rosberg ended the day only thirteenth-fastest after the German was forced to abort what would have been his fastest lap of the session when Lotus driver Pastor Maldonado crashed bringing out the red flags. -- AT
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