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Interview with Lewis Hamilton: 'Monza was a big blow for Ferrari'

Interview with Lewis Hamilton
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S You have caught up with Juan-Manuel Fangio. What does that mean for you?

Hamilton: Fangio is something like our Godfather. It's crazy that I've got as many world titles as him. But he won his five titles in a much more dangerous time than me. I drove his car from the 1950s together with Stirling Moss on the old Monza route. Sir Stirling told me that the drivers used to pray that they would fall out of the cockpit in an accident because that would increase the chances of survival. Is not that crazy? Today we are happy that we are seated as deeply in the car as possible and buckled up tightly. I am grateful that I can drive with so much more technology in the car today.

A word about your World Cup opponent Sebastian Vettel.

Hamilton: He fought hard this year. There have been a few tough times for him, but the way he has now fought back with a strong performance in Mexico shows that he is a great champion. The pressure on him must be immense after so many years that Ferrari has been waiting for the title. We both have great respect for each other.

How does your World Cup season look in retrospect?

Hamilton: Incredibly long, incredibly hard. Mentally and physically, for everyone. For the drivers mainly from the head. Ferrari was insanely strong at certain times of the season. In the first half of the season we had no idea where that was going. But the very moments when we fell behind were the best of the season. We not only lost seven points, but sometimes more, but then we pulled ourselves together and found our way back. The team and the drivers. I think that was the key. The whole team can be proud of that.

How difficult was it not to panic during Ferrari's strong phases?

Hamilton: You usually run over the car at such moments. The trick is not to overdo it. I learned to run over a car right to the point where the shot backfires. Let's call it controlled run-over. After the summer break, we were all hopeful that our tech upgrade would bring us back. After the McLaren upgrade in 2009, it was the biggest I've ever had. And then Ferrari turns up with an even bigger oneUpgrade to.

After Ferrari's victory at Spa and the front row in Monza, it looked like Ferrari had the better cards. Was your victory in Monza the turning point?

Hamilton: We knew that Monza would be an important race. I qualified for third place on the grid. Second place would have been possible with a perfect lap, but I dropped half a tenth here and there. I was mad at myself. You do so many training laps and then you make such stupid mistakes in qualifying. That gave me a lot to think about on Saturday night. I pondered for a long time how aggressively I should approach the race. It's a fine line between an accident and a missed opportunity. That's exactly what I like about our sport. You can't calculate it. Every first or second curve is a different story. I would say that our victory at Monza was the biggest blow for Ferrari from a psychological point of view. For Seb it was the two moments when he made mistakes. When the team makes a mistake, it's painful, but you as a driver, that's terrible. You take that to heart. So we had won against all the predictions Hockenheim and Monza. But we also had to do it in Singapore, on a route where Ferrari normally destroys us. We did a great job there as a team. Especially how we prepared ourselves in the practice sessions, how we always hit the track at the right time in qualifying, unlike Ferrari, who sent their drivers into traffic.

The team did operationally learned?

Hamilton: We also had our problems, but all of them in the first half of the season. We should have won Australia. In China and Canada we were shockingly slow.

Why are you and Mercedes always so strong in the second half of the season?

Hamilton: It's like writing a book and developing the story as you write it. You are constantly learning about the car, the tires and the set-up. After every race you tell yourself that you might have more wings here, more ground clearance there, and you should have a different balance. There is so much information pouring in to you that you have to process. Then the summer break comes, and you finally have the time to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the first half of the season, to fill all the open questions with answers. If you do it right, you will automatically be stronger in the second part of the season.

They had more highlights this season than ever before. Why?

Hamilton: I can rely on my team around me. My job is to get the best out of them. During the briefing, in personal understanding. When things go bad, you have to straighten them up.That worked very well this year. I can only drive three seconds faster in the rain at Hockenheim because they give me a perfect car. This is something that has to be learned. In 2007 I would not have been able to do this. I even improved myself again compared to last year, and that was a very good year. Nevertheless, I questioned myself and looked for things in which I can still improve. If you win the title, it's easy to ride the wave and find yourself great. I always want more. If I see something in the meetings that we can do better, I ask my boys to take notes so we can talk about it in the winter. And if they don't write it down, I insist. I'll tell them they'll forget, and I'll forget to remind them too.

You have made no mistakes this year. How difficult is that over a long season?

Hamilton: It's brutally difficult. But I've already made mistakes, just not those that you can see from the outside. You lose a tenth in a qualifying round and that costs you a position. I try to minimize that too, but maybe a handful of mistakes like this happened in the first 18 races. In the races I made up for almost all of them.

What is the basis: experience, discipline, attention?

Hamilton: All together, but discipline and preparation are the most important things. The guys want to give you 100 books to read. You need to know which are the important ones because you don't have the time to study everything. Experience tells you when you have to accelerate in the race, when you don't and that you won't win the race in the first or second corner.

Have you ever had the feeling that the World Championship is sliding for you out of your hands? For example when Ferrari was stronger?

Hamilton: I always knew that they weren't miles away from us. I kind of like the task of racing against a better car. It reminds me of my karting days when I had a bad kart that my dad only made to look nice. I always had to start from behind and make up for the deficits in the race. We are paid for these one, two, three tenths extra. When I was negotiating my contract, I told them that they would need that little extra when it comes to the difference between first and second place.

Do you need this enemy image “against everyone Resistance “to drive yourself to top performance?

Hamilton: I wouldn't speak of an enemy image. I never think the glass is half empty. Always the opposite. If it starts raining in Budapest in qualifying, then I don't think so. Shit, this is going to be difficult. I see it as an opportunity. Ferrari had inDry the faster car. Here was the moment to make the difference. Or Hockenheim, when the rain suddenly set in. So I said to myself: Now I'll catch up with Seb and I know that he might think the same, because Ferrari must have told him that I'm getting closer. And that pressure may drive him into error. I believe in the magic of psychology.

Also that he makes the mistake and not you?

Hamilton: When Mayweather steps into the boxing ring, his body language says, I'll win the fight. Even if the opponent is bigger and stronger. He doesn't get nervous because he knows what the other can or can't do. For me it is the same. When I got back on the track behind Seb in Sochi, I knew that I would pass again. I know his strengths, his weaknesses, and I know where I am better. And then off to the fight.

Did you know at that moment that his battery was dead?

Hamilton: Me had no idea about it. I was just making sure I had enough juice. For this straight line and the next. Not that he's turning the tables there again.

Did Vettel defend himself too hard?

The battle of Hamilton vs. Vettel in Russia heated the minds.

Hamilton: It was on the border. The top drivers like Fernando or Seb all drive like that. Aggressive but not inconsiderate. One race later we discussed with Charlie Whiting whether Seb had changed lanes once or twice. Charlie said he turned to the right, then took the steering back a little and then turned it harder to the right again. So a lane change. I told Charlie that he was setting a precedent and asked all the other drivers what they thought of it. Only one said it would have been two lane changes. And that was Max. The inventor of two lane changes, of all people. Because of Max, we have this rule at all.

Fernando Alonso will be leaving Formula 1. Do you regret that you recently couldn't fight him with the same weapons as in 2007?

Hamilton: People underestimate this season. Yes, I was lucky enough to be able to start my career in a top team right away. It's sometimes easier for a young driver to learn in a small team where you don't have as much pressure. But wanting to compete in a top team against a two-time world champion, suddenly being famous and traveling so much, that was a huge task and one of the toughest years of my life. I wish I had already known then what I know today. I don't regret that he's not in a better car. Sure, he could have had more world titles, but it's not that he didn't have the opportunity. It just depends on you making the right decisions outside of the cockpit. If, like him, you believe that you control the driver market, you shouldn't be surprised if you end up with nothing in your hands. There was also Seb and me on the market. When Fernando left his place at Ferrari, Seb grabbed it, and he didn't get Seb's place at Red Bull because they gave the Max. Even so, I still have a lot of respect for him. He's a phenomenal driver and I don't think his reputation has suffered in recent years. People can see what achievements he brings in Formula 1 and beyond.

Is there luck in choosing the right team?

Hamilton: I don't see it as luck that I ended up at Mercedes. Before signing, I did my homework and talked to different people from different teams. I made a list of pros and cons for each option and asked the teams the right questions. Back then, I wanted to know from Ross Brawn what Mercedes was planning to improve. I told him: You have 400 people, McLaren has 800. How are you going to keep up with them in terms of development speed? His answers then gave me a picture that convinced me. I knew it would take a little longer, but Mercedes is such a famous brand that I was sure they would win one day.


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