Lewis Hamilton Interview – 2009 F1 Season RoundupNovember 9th, 2009
You looked unstoppable around the Abu Dhabi circuit, but the race brought the first mechanical retirement of your Formula 1 career – was it a weekend of mixed fortunes?
Not really. Of course, it’s disappointing not to finish a race – particularly when you’re at the front leading it – but I have to be realistic: to have got through nearly three seasons of racing and to only now be stopped by a mechanical failure is an incredible statistic.
You almost take reliability for granted these days, so it was weird to be stood in the garage watching the race rather than being in it. But I think we can all be proud of what we’ve achieved this year. We started the season with what was the slowest car in the field, but we never gave up, and on Saturday in Abu Dhabi, you could argue that we had the fastest car out there. That’s an absolutely incredible achievement – and I can’t think of a single team other than Vodafone McLaren Mercedes that could have done that.
It would have been great to have won the race and sent us into the winter with our heads held high, but it wasn’t to be. I loved the circuit – for a new track, it has a good blend of corners and it needs you to be very focused and precise to get the best from the lap-time. We’ll be back to try and win it next year!
Let’s look back over the season – it’s been a years of highs and lows, but what has been your highlight?
I think there are a few moments that will stay with me from this year. The first was at Silverstone, where I arrived knowing that I wouldn’t be able to fight for a win, and where I was just overwhelmed by the amount of support from the people at the circuit. I would never have imagined it would have been such a positive and inspiring weekend for me – even if our results weren’t that great.
I’d had such an amazing race at Silverstone in 2008, and it really meant a lot to me to see that people had kept the faith and were behind me even if I couldn’t score a win for them.
On the track, one of my biggest highlights was in Germany, when we tried the upgrade package for the first time. Before I’d even driven the car, you could see that it was a big step – we’d completely changed the front wing, the top body and the floor, and there was a lot of pressure for it to be right – and it looked good, the car looked fantastic.
And it only took me a few laps to realise that the car was an incredible improvement. Finally, after months of struggling, I could finally get the car to do what I wanted: I could get it turned in properly, and get hard on the power and just rely on the grip to get me out of a corner. Coming out of the Nurburgring hairpin and heading uphill into the fast esses, I accidentally left my radio switched on, and the whole team could hear me yelling and screaming because the car felt so good!
I felt a bit embarrassed afterwards, especially when Martin told me he’d played the recording back to the whole team! But I can see now that that was important for everyone’s morale.
The other highlight was winning in Hungary. I’d always said that winning a race this year was going to feel sweeter than anything else we’d achieved, just because it would be such a satisfying conclusion to all our hard work. And the Hungarian Grand Prix was just a dream come true – to be able to measure my pace over the others and to get the car home first was just unbelievable. Total satisfaction…
Conversely, what was your toughest moment?
There were a few. The first difficulty we faced this year was during testing: we knew the car wasn’t the fastest but, at the Barcelona test in week 11, it became really clear to us that we were struggling and we just didn’t have the pace of the front-runners. I remember phoning Ron and Martin and explaining to them that we had a lot of work ahead of us if we were going to turn MP4-24 into a race winner.
That was a difficult call, but Ron and Martin gave me their full support and we actually started to look at a rescue plan immediately – there was no waiting. So what was a difficult experience at first actually turned into a positive one.
The other tough moment happened not long after, in Melbourne and Malaysia. And that was a difficult time for me personally – but I strongly believe that I used that experience to grow as a person and to become stronger through it. I’m a firm believer that every experience you have – even the bad ones – help to define and build your character. You can’t change the past, but you can definitely learn from it, and I overcame that situation in Melbourne, I had the courage and conviction to man up about it in Malaysia and, ultimately, I came out of it stronger.
A few quick questions: what was your favourite circuit this year?
Abu Dhabi was an absolutely incredible place, but the best circuit I visited all year was Suzuka. Monaco still has a very special place in my heart – and it’s totally unique – but Suzuka really is the greatest race track in the world.
Also, I can’t not mention Silverstone – the older circuits on the calendar all have this incredible character – places like Silverstone, Monaco, Spa, Monza – they are the best circuits we visit, and we need them on the calendar. I know that Silverstone still isn’t confirmed for 2010 – but it has to be on the calendar, I can’t imagine racing in Formula 1 without it being there.
Monza was good fun, but probably either Suzuka or Brazil. I raced my heart out at Suzuka, my battle with Jarno in the first stint was seriously hardcore – it was like doing 20 qualifying laps in a row. But Brazil was even crazier – the car was probably the best it has felt all year and I didn’t stop pushing from the first corner until the last corner. That was probably my best drive of the whole year.
Taking the team back to the top step of the podium in Hungary – and then having four weeks before the next race to hold onto it! Seriously, that was the greatest achievement of our season. I’m so proud of everyone who played a role in getting us back to the front. Believe me, we really deserved that result.
What do you take away from this season?
I’ve learnt a lot about effort, dedication, motivation: things that you almost take for granted when you are at the front, but which mean a lot more when you are fighting at the back. I’ve grown as a man, and as a driver – I’ve faced bigger hurdles this year than in my previous two seasons and I think I now know how to cope with things better than I did – even from one year ago.
I also think we are a much closer group now, too. We’ve known each other for one more season, and the physical bonds between us all are so much tighter – we’ve been through a lot together and we know each other a lot better. That’s something I really appreciate – and I think that will make us a better fighting unit next season.
What’s next for Lewis Hamilton?
I’m at Brooklands this weekend for the Powered By Mercedes-Benz event – I’ll be there with Heikki, and we’ll be driving last year’s MP4-23. After that, I’m really going to start training hard: I want to start next season fitter than I’ve ever been, and I’ve been working with our team doctor to make sure that I’m better prepared than ever for the new year. I’ll be training hard, at home in Geneva and in Finland.
After that, I’ll have a short break for Christmas – I’m not planning to go away anywhere, but I’ll probably spend it with my family. After that, it will be back to work – meetings with the engineers, the launch and testing the new car – which looks fantastic.
To be honest, I’m ready to go racing again next week – at the moment, I think I can safely say that I’m more in love with Formula 1 than I’ve ever been, and I just can’t wait to get back out there again!