INTERVIEW: Lewis Hamilton has unfinished business

Steve Etherington/Motorsport Images

INTERVIEW: Lewis Hamilton has unfinished business

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INTERVIEW: Lewis Hamilton has unfinished business

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Of course, there’s a theme connecting some of the names Hamilton mentions. Williams and Federer are both all-time greats who have both recently retired from tennis, while Vettel’s time in F1 is also coming to an end.

In some cases their trademark dominance has faded, and age has started to catch up with others. Adjusting his mindset after having been used to being at the top of his profession for so long is a challenge Hamilton says he is facing at the moment: “with great difficulty.”

“I think it’s the same for everyone,” he continues. “I take a lot of inspiration from other athletes like watching Serena, seeing everything she’s gone through and in conversations, just the way she’s pulled herself back up and the great performances… she is just such a warrior and she’s my inspiration right now.

“So it’s really just about taking time to sit back, reflect, figure out what you can do better. As athletes, we are super-determined, we don’t like to lose, we don’t like to fail. Failure is not an option, but sometimes you do, and that’s part of the process. It’s how you then don’t beat yourself up or beat yourself down, it’s how you take it on, put it on your back and use it as experience to power forward.

“And it’s not easy. It could take you one day, it could take you five minutes, it could take you multiple days. These past few days (since his error at Spa) have not been easy and I don’t take lightly mistakes that I make. And some people will be like, ‘well, don’t be so hard on yourself,’ but that’s how I’ve got to be the driver I am today.

“And there’s so many implications of a mistake. For example, the one I made. The team, the damage, the points for the team, the morale. So I go back into the factory and I’m like, ‘I’m so sorry’. But we win and we lose as a team and we pull back together and that’s the part I really do love. I’m not alone in the emotional roller coaster ride.

“I feel bad for my friends that came to (Belgium) and sat there ready to go, even if they’re one of a couple in a big orange field of Max (Verstappen) fans. I’m so proud of them for the bravery they have, especially with what’s been going on this year. It’s not easy to stand in a crowd of the opponent’s fans. But they have been amazing, and so I know I’ve got to get back up for them as well. So that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Ah yes. Verstappen. Fights with Alonso morphed into ones with Vettel but it had been a long time since Hamilton had experienced anything as intense as the battle with the Dutchman last season. And after such an unsavory ending, there’s been no opportunity to reply, as Red Bull has gone on to dominate this season and Mercedes struggles.

But it’s not something that the seven-time world champion finds painful, because it’s an aspect of F1 that is out of his hands.

“I think that comes with the lesson that you have to focus on what you can control. And whilst we do worry about things we can’t control, you have to try to learn not to,” he says.

“I do watch (other) sports and I wish that it was just the pure ability that I have that makes all the difference. But there’s so many people’s ability coming together – the communication, the amount of work, the processes, the direction you will go. It’s like we’re all rowing the boat and whilst we’ve got Toto (Wolff) above as the steering mechanism, we as drivers are also the part of the rod that’s steering it in the right direction.

Hamilton is treating Mercedes’ frustrating 2022 campaign as a lesson in how not to get derailed by things he can’t control. Jiri Krenek/Mercedes F1

“So it’s definitely tough. But I don’t like the word ‘tough’ because I’ve just been in Africa and I’ve seen kids that have nothing, so nothing is ever really that tough. It’s something we say in our minds, right? But that should never be an excuse, it takes work and I wouldn’t really want it any other way.

“To be honest, if every day was easy and you’re just getting through it, it just wouldn’t be a challenge. I love the challenge of working with everybody and challenging the people and them challenging me. All acknowledging this year that we haven’t done a great job, but it doesn’t mean we can’t do a great job in the future. We have done it in the past.

“Does it hurt? I wouldn’t say it hurts. We all know what it could be. We would love to be in that battle fighting, and I wish that all the cars were a lot closer and we were all having a much better battle closer to the front. I wish there was only tenths between us all, you know? But that’s not the way our sport is.

“So I don’t worry about that, and, again, it’s not something I can control at the moment. So I just focus on what I can and that is trying to do a better job with what we have got and steering it. My worry, what is keeping me up at night is: what have I left out? Who do I need to speak to at the track? How can I support Bono (race engineer Pete Bonington)? How can I support Marcus (Dudley, performance engineer) and Shov (trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin)?

“In the aero department, how can I support them to make better choices for the next car? When I damage the car, I take money away from the budget and I’m like, ‘Oh, God! Don’t do that!’ And so that’s really what I’ve been focusing on and I’m hoping when we come back in February next year, the car touches the ground and it does what we hope it does.”

For so many people, there’s an alternate universe where Hamilton is an eight-time world champion, and wasn’t robbed by the incorrect handling of the Safety Car period in Abu Dhabi. But that could also have moved him closer to retirement, as the 37-year-old actually sees the difficulties he’s faced – certainly with this year’s car – as a motivating factor that will keep him racing in F1 even longer to try and get back to the top.

“Definitely because it’s going to take longer than one year. I think if we had just won last year and then we would win this year, definitely life would be in a different place and you’d be on a different course.

“I love that it’s gone through a phase even harder and we’ve got to pull through that thick slog and get to the point where we are a little bit lighter and we’re floating a little bit more. So yeah, I would say that it’s encouraged me to stay longer.

“Plus I’m feeling fit, I’m finding ways of feeling better physically. The mental challenge is a consistent thing and that will always be the case because that’s how it is for us athletes, because we’re on the edge. But right now, where I am in life, I’m really grateful for the opportunity I have here. I like to think I still deserve a place here, and there is lots of work to do.”

Whether it’s racing on track or trying to push the sport forward off it, Hamilton’s drive remains the same. And that’s why we’re likely to get to watch him for a number of years yet.

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