Lewis Hamilton has been at the headquarters of Mercedes Grand Prix team for the last couple of days, driving the 2013 car on the simulator, meeting all the staff and facing a select group of UK media, including JA on F1, for the first time as a Mercedes GP driver.
He dismissed stories about team principal Ross Brawn being replaced by McLaren’s Paddy Lowe and said that he was not expecting miracles from the 2013 car, given that Mercedes was two seconds per lap of the pace at the benchmark Suzuka circuit in October last year and implied that the Mercedes’ team seems to him to be hungrier than the staff at his former team, McLaren,
“I’ve been around and there is a great atmosphere here, great spirit just as I had at my previous team,” said Hamilton. “The guys seem hungrier than any group of people I’ve seen before. They seem seriously hungry to win and excited that they have another shot at it this year.
“There was always a great atmosphere, it’s just a different factory and a different environment here. The guys seem just as ‘on it.’
“They are working really hard and it’s important that they are always trying to analyse where they can improve and where adjustments need to be made because they just want to win and that’s a big positive for me.”
Although short on race wins in recent years in comparison with McLaren, the Brackley based team has, of course, won the drivers’ and constructors’ world championships more recently than the Woking outfit, which last won the drivers’ title in 2008 and the constructors’ in 1999.
As Brawn GP, the Brackley team won both titles in 2009 with Jenson Button. Hamilton will be engineered this year by the very experienced Jock Clear, who worked with Michael Schumacher last season and who engineered Jacques Villeneuve to the 1997 world championship with Williams.
“As far as I’m aware there are no plans to bring Paddy here,” he said. “I’ve been assured by Ross that his commitment is for the long term and he is here to try to win with me, which reassures me and continues to give me a positive feeling moving forward.
“There are lots of good people here and I’ve obviously had great experiences with Paddy but he works with McLaren as far as I’m concerned.”
Hamilton’s first day with the media at his new team was supposed to be relaxed and positive, but the stories about Lowe replacing Brawn have meant that once again he finds himself in the middle of a storm. Such things follow Hamilton around, but this one is not of his making and he could not have been more explicit in his feelings about Brawn being part of the set-up long term.
Whether Brawn chooses to stick it out, with clear signs already that this is going to be a political hotbed, time will tell. Hamilton clearly hopes he will.
Hamilton meanwhile was realistic about his chances this season,
“I think it’s important to be patient and it’s important to be realistic,” he said. “You’ve got to remember that the way Formula One has gone over the years and my experience in the last six years at Mclaren, the car evolving each year and how long it takes to develop a car and to find one second throughout the season, knowing that Mercedes were 1.1 seconds behind in Brazil, I think it was almost two seconds at Suzuka.
“So to see that fluctuating you’ve got to be very understanding that an evolution of the car is going to be difficult for them in three months to gain two seconds or whatever it is.
“So I’ve just got to be very aware of that, but I know that the guys are working as hard as they can and every little bit counts so that’s what they’re working for.”
He said that his eye was mainly on the 2014 season, when a new engine and chassis formula will offer a chance for teams who are off the pace today to make a fresh start and perhaps make the leap into the pace setters,
“This is a marathon not a sprint. It’s the long haul. I hope that this year we can be competitive. If we arrive at the first race and we are in front, it’s going to be spectacular, but of we are not we know we just have to keep working at it.
“I’ve not even driven the car so I don’t even know what problems they had. It’s not like I can say, ‘We need to look in this area’. They didn’t have enough downforce last year. Of course 2-14 is probably a slightly better opportunity because things start again.”
(Does he have patience?} “Time will tell. No, I’m pretty sure that I do. You have got to remember that I had a couple of half dodgy cars, one particular year 2009, but it did get better so perseverance is going to be key for all of us.”