Lewis Hamilton: Happy Briton is flying at Mercedes
2008 world champion tells Kevin Garside he is loving life at new team and has never felt more motivated as he eyes Silverstone success
In the hierarchy of publicity stunts it beats dangling from a wire, the fate of an embarrassed Lewis Hamilton in Istanbul five years ago. But in the end even a spin with the Red Arrows must fall into line behind a thrash through Maggots, Becketts and Chapel, throttle to the floor.
Hamilton is six months into his new life at Mercedes, and loving it. He arrives at the British Grand Prix fourth in the driver's championship, a credible 77 points from seven races. He would like to have Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso, drivers he admires greatly, by the throat in every race, yet concedes he is able to land only episodic blows. But this is Silverstone, a place of myth and wonder, where legends are made.
At 28, circumstances have forced a career reappraisal. The quicker car is someone else's, a young German's, Vettel making the most of the cards providence has dealt him, just as Hamilton did before Red Bull ruled the world. Hamilton is not bitter. He is grateful for the wave that swept him into Formula One in 2007. He knows he could have washed up like many a driver at the back of the field hoping to light a flare with a hot lap or two at best.
Hamilton made a historic mark, smashing ethnic taboos and losing out on the world title to Kimi Raikkonen by only a point on debut, and even then controversially, blowing a 17-point lead with two races to go after McLaren had been kicked out of the constructors' championship following the Ferrari-gate espionage scandal. There are some details pertaining to the races in China, where McLaren defied F1 logic by leaving Hamilton out on worn tyres for six laps, and Brazil, where a mysterious gearbox glitch slowed him just long enough to take him out of contention before righting itself. Not even the magician Dynamo who levitates by the side of London buses could pull a trick like that.
He put all that behind him a year later with a brilliant run to the title at Interlagos, tearing off the final corner in a haze of spray to claim the crown. His victory at an equally moist Silverstone during that championship year remains one of his finest, recollections of it as fresh today as they were five years ago. A repeat on Sunday would be nice.
"2008 was exceptional. I remember it like it was yesterday. There wasn't a better way to win it. Nothing will top that, that style, in that rain. The way we did it was special. Coming to a new team, and after such a long period of time, to win here again would be quite emotional. This is the one to win. It is the same for any British driver."
There will be a tide of support for Jenson Button and McLaren. There always is. On paper they haven't an earthly chance, which places Hamilton at the centre of British interest. Why else would the Red Arrows tip him the wing in the run-up to Britain's automotive summer showpiece?
"They cranked it up, for sure, the G-forces were around six I think. There were nine of us up there, the full Red Arrows show," said Hamilton, who at one point took the controls himself. "We did quite a few passes and then the last one is when you break away. I was ready. I didn't tense up or anything but then my vision started narrowing. I had sick bags in my pockets but I couldn't reach them. I was determined to not puke or pass out, but I felt very, very ill after that first run. We did loops, back turns, rolls. I felt like I had been on a boat. It is incredible what they do. I crapped myself hoping I did not crash into the other planes."
The announcement of Mark Webber's forthcoming departure from Red Bull came a year too late for Hamilton. When he was looking for a new place to work Red Bull was an obvious target. The show of loyalty towards Webber by owner Dietrich Mateschitz sent Hamilton Mercedes' way. He says now, he wouldn't have it any other way. "When I made the decision I had a strong feeling this was the place to be. I did my homework. I knew Mercedes was committed to the long term. I've had great results through my career. I want to win a second world championship, win more races in a year. This is what I live and breathe for.
"I was confident that [working with] the team was going to be a great experience, and it has been, a breath of fresh air. The car is way better than I ever could have imagined. I can definitely go through my life knowing that if any choice was ever made at the right time, that was one of them. The only time I ever really thought about it I had already signed [the deal]. I was in Colorado training. I was just sitting looking out at the mountains thinking it was going to be a real challenge. But I had no regrets and have not had that thought since."
So we can assume it won't be Hamilton at the side of Vettel next year. Pity for the neutral, because that would make life a lot more difficult for Vettel, according to Hamilton. "Vettel is a fantastic driver, absolutely fantastic. He has shown it time and time again. He is always on it. He's a multiple world champion and deserves to be considered among the best drivers in F1. But I think he would have a much tougher time if he was positioned with a couple of different drivers. I'm sure in the back of every driver's mind they are thinking what it would be like if I were driving that car."
Hamilton has his hands full as it is keeping team-mate Nico Rosberg in check. And he knows it. Though eclipsed in Canada, the German had been enjoying the upper hand in the association, culminating in the pole-to-flag victory at Monaco.
"Nico is a fantastic driver, too, very intelligent and works hard. He will be a threat everywhere. He has worked hard to get where he is and perhaps does not have the respect he deserves. I always want to have a competitive team-mate. I'm not like some other drivers happy to have a team-mate who is behind them. I don't like losing, but I can take it.
"To come back from being beaten by your team-mate is just about working harder. You have to find a response. That is what brings some of the excitement back into the game."
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