F1 Monaco Grand Prix: Lewis Hamilton cannot wait for the ‘scary roller-coaster ride’ to fifth victory

 

Monaco

With four straight victories behind him and leading the world championship heading into Sunday's Monaco Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton is in a good place. And in the relaxed state befitting a man who is beginning to realise his destiny, he has been waxing lyrical about a circuit he adores.

“There’s not a single part of this track that doesn’t make my hair stand up on end,” he admitted. “Honestly, I wish you could feel what we feel when we go round here. It’s like when you go on the most scary roller-coaster ride, perhaps when they drop you off a cliff and you go down. And that first bit, that fear factor, that initial part, lasts for just a second. But here, it’s the whole lap that’s like that. It’s scary, but it’s cool!

“It’s all these different emotions in one. It’s the most incredible roller-coaster ride. It’s a circuit where you have to walk very slowly before you can run.”

The French driver Jean-Éric Vergne says that this is a place where you always have to arrive feeling humble, no matter what you might have done here before. His young team-mate at Toro Rosso, Daniil Kvyat, had never driven on any kind of street circuit, let alone Monaco, when he arrived here. Hamilton chuckled sympathetically at that.

“It’s going to be a scary nightmare for him. It’s so fast. We go up that hill at nearly 200mph, and you can’t even see the corner at the top as it drops down. You’re just looking at the sky and all of a sudden the corner arrives, and you can’t see round it. I’m just getting excited thinking about it…”

 

Hamilton’s great hero, the late Ayrton Senna – who beat Graham Hill’s long-standing record of successive victories here with his fifth in 1993 – once admitted that driving a qualifying lap here felt like an out-of-body experience where he was so in the zone that  he was almost driving sub-consciously.

“I don’t think I relate fully to that,” Hamilton said. “No, I’m very much there. But it’s unlike anything else. You know that death – well, not death – but the wall is just there. Right there. That one small turn-in too early and you’re gone. Brake a couple of metres too late and you’re in the wall. That’s why it’s the best track, because there’s no room for error.”

In the past, in slower-cornering cars, drivers used to say they could recognise faces in the crowd going through Casino Square. But not now, Hamilton confirmed.

“There’s some places you might be aware of them, but not there. So much is going on. When you come out of the chicane you can catch people in the corner of your eye, maybe. But going up the hill you can catch a glimpse of the TV screen, and watch it. I do it at every race. They might have the positions so it helps you understand more than your pit board, or you can see where the guy behind you is on another part of the track and gauge the gap.” And that’s at 200mph.

There are no easy corners here, not even the seafront chicane which is approached at close to 170mph before the drivers brake at five or six G. But Piscine, the swimming pool, has four of the most breathtakingly fast changes of direction.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous, man,” Hamilton said, laughing out loud. “It’s insane how fast we go through there. The coolest thing is they allow us to race here. It’s the most really incredible race there is. It’s a massive risk to try and overtake. But over a single lap, it’s the best.”

He could have won here in his rookie season in 2007, and did so in 2008, but curiously he has never been on the crucial pole position. “That’s true,” he reflected. “Jeez, I haven’t been on pole here in F1... I was on pole in Formula 3, and GP2, but yeah… I didn’t even think of that. Damn…”

In the best car in the field, he will go all-out to rectify that, loving every moment of a spectacular challenge.

Hamilton’s team-mate Nico Rosberg is believed to have signed a two-year deal to stay at Mercedes until the end of the 2016 season.

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