Following a fourth consecutive pole position at the Belgian Grand Prix in Spa, Lewis Hamilton heads to Monza in high spirits at a track which has brought him success in the past.
In an exclusive interview with BBC Radio 5 Live, the Mercedes driver speaks candidly of the first year with his new team and how it felt stepping up on to the iconic Monza podium in front of the Tifosi, after winning the Italian Grand Prix in 2012.
Here are some of the answers. To hear the full interview, click here 5 Live F1 show, Monza
Does it seem like a year ago that you made the decision to make the switch from McLaren to Mercedes?
Lewis Hamilton: It feels like a really good year, a real positive since then. I loved it here last year and it was a great period of time in my career. When I look back it was cool, there was a lot of attention – people were on their toes waiting for me to make a decision – and of course when I had the good result here people naturally thought that swayed in the favour of me staying with McLaren. And I was able to sit back and knew it wasn’t swaying either way, it was just picking the right moment to make my decision.
After 6 years at McLaren you got used to their structure. How was it coming to Mercedes with different management staff? Were you weary, or very happy initially?
LH: It’s been a fantastic year. I get to work with Ross (Brawn), which is a real pleasure and an honour to work with someone who has achieved so much. It’s a slightly different feeling at the factory – it feels like NASA at the MTC. Whereas, at Brackley it feels more like a Formula Three team – a real pure racing team. It’s a different feeling but I quite like it.
At the beginning of this year your expectations were well and truly under control in terms of what you might achieve this year. And yet week after week we find ourselves talking about you fighting for pole positions. It has obviously gone a lot better than you’d expected, so do you feel you are on a growing wave with Mercedes, as they also look strong heading in to the new technical rules in 2014?
LH: I’m not actually a great surfer! I tend to get up on a high wave and then fall off so must watch what I say. But I hope this wave lasts for a long time as I edge closer to thirty-years old, and while I’ve had a lot of great success, I’ve not won as many Championships’ as I had hoped. I feel that I am in the right place and that things happen for the right reasons – even if they are negative. Doors close and doors open, so I feel in a positive place and I hope that Mercedes are able to pull it together for next year so that we can fight the Red Bulls and Ferraris for the World Championship.
Here in Monza you always get a unique podium ceremony, above the fanatical crowds. Last year when you won here, you seemed ecstatic when you came off the podium – you received a positive reception following your victory last year regardless of the odd ‘boo’ from some of the fans below.
LH: It’s great to go to certain circuits where fans are able to get on to the track after the race. Even though you get booed it is actually a cool feeling. When you watch football and see the hooliganism, I wish that people were more respectful of the other team. But that’s not the case in the real world and it’s something you have to deal with. When you get the boos, you just take that negative energy and put an even bigger smile on, which makes the booing increase! That’s the greatest thing.
Earlier in the year you stated that you were not at home with the brakes on this car. Monza is a track that relies heavily on braking – are you comfortable now with this issue?
LH: I’m conscious that braking is going to be difficult this weekend, which is where I gained so much time in the past years here. I have generally not been happy with the braking all year – even in the races where I have got pole position. But we are always improving and I’m hoping that next year will be much better.
There is a poignant moment in the Senna Movie where he says “I feel complete as a driver, but I won’t find true happiness until I feel complete as a man, which I’m sure will come later in my life.” It is a very poignant moment and when you look at yourself, Lewis, where do you feel you are on that journey?
LH: That’s an interesting quote because it is very much in line with his religion. There was a message whilst I was at church recently that alluded to a similar thought, saying “Lord, do not take my career to the next level until you have taken me to the next level as a human being.” That is my interpretation of what Senna meant. And I feel that I am heading towards that direction in the best feeling I’ve had for a long time.
The Red Bull seems to be the hottest seat during the recent driver market rumours, and as we now know Daniel Ricciardo is joining Vettel in the team. People sometimes say that if you were in the Red Bull, you could have been Champion every year. Is it the car plus the person? Or is the car a bigger percentage of that pair sometimes?
LH: The car is a large percentage and the team is a large percentage. With all the input from the team it is certainly not 100% the driver, I would put it as 70-80% (car). But with that 20-30% the driver can really make a difference, just look at Sebastian (Vettel) and Mark (Webber). Sebastian is always 6/10ths of a second ahead of him, and that is why Vettel is that exceptional a driver. The best of us are able to bring those extra tenths out above the others and that is what they pay us the big bucks to do.”
To hear the whole interview, plus interviews with Alonso, Ricciardo, Webber and Schumacher go to 5 Live F1 show, Monza