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McLaren calm ahead of Ferrari storm 11 May 2007

Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 4, Spanish Grand Prix, Preparations, Barcelona, Spain, Thursday, 10 May 2007 Fernando Alonso (ESP) McLaren is interviewed.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 4, Spanish Grand Prix, Preparations, Barcelona, Spain, Thursday, 10 May 2007 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 4, Spanish Grand Prix, Preparations, Barcelona, Spain, Thursday, 10 May 2007 Felipe Massa (BRA) Ferrari.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 4, Spanish Grand Prix, Preparations, Barcelona, Spain, Thursday, 10 May 2007

“It’s really weird!” Lewis Hamilton admitted here yesterday as he pondered the change in his life since his first three remarkable Grands Prix outings.

“I used to come into the McLaren Communications Centre at races in 2005 and last year and have lunch, and just say hello to everyone. Now I have my own room, I’ve taken over Kimi’s (Raikkonen) place. It’s almost like sitting here watching myself race!”

For all that his three podium finishes in his first three races has set new records, catapulting him on to the front pages of numerous national newspapers, he insists that he is the same man he was in F3 in 2005 or GP2 last year.

“I do feel exactly the same person that I was before. I’m now an F1 driver but it hasn’t fully sunk in. It’s hard to absorb what I’ve done.”

There was a gathering of 50 family members in his house in Tewin, Hertfordshire, last weekend, the first time they have all been able to get together to celebrate since the season started. “I told them to treat me normally, that I haven’t changed, I am the same Lewis,” he admitted. “It’s important that you have that bond with your family.”

A lot of people would love to see the 22 year-old British star win his first Grand Prix this weekend, but both Hamilton and team mate Fernando Alonso know they face a hard time. The perceived wisdom is that Ferrari took a big step forward here in the recent test. And the reason for this is that the F2007 is now optimised around its intended rear end. What was seen at the car’s launch, and it the first three races, was a rear suspension package that was effectively a ‘guestimate’, based on what was known of Bridgestone’s 2007 tyres pre-season. Now that Ferrari have learned more from the first three races, the package has been recreated around the intended 2007 set-up, with beneficial results.

Alonso, however, believes that McLaren have also made some progress, and that he in particular is more comfortable with the MP4-22.

“I thought that I understood the tyres now and the car, that I could drive it with more comfort and that I knew what it was doing,” the world champion said. “But then I came here last week and learned so much more, about the long runs, the reactions of car and tyres. I don’t know, maybe it will take more time to be 100 percent confident in car, but every day in car you learn more things. But think all drivers think that!

“Nobody knows whether McLaren can still keep up with Ferrari, and tomorrow (Friday) won’t be the day to tell as Fridays are always a bit confused. We will have to wait until Q1 and Q2 on Saturday afternoon, in my opinion; until that moment we won’t tell. We have worked hard and improved the car, but so has everybody else.”

Ferrari’s Felipe Massa looks confident, and said yesterday: “McLaren have been very, very competitive in the last few races and we keep working hard in the expectation they will keep being competitive.”

Hamilton said: “Its going to be extremely difficult this weekend. Ferrari are extremely competitive. The test here suggests that we have made a significant step forward, but everybody else has made a similar step. I hope we have closed the gap, but I think they will still have a slight edge. We must make sure that me and Fernando do a top job this weekend. I think he will be more at ease here in his home country. That should really help.”

Meanwhile, there has been divided opinion on the value of the changes to the final section of the circuit, with the new chicane slowing the cars on to the long pit straight.

“I miss the last two corners, they were nice,” Alonso said regretfully. “I don’t think the racing will be any different, in terms of it promoting more overtaking. If cars are close together, and you are fighting with someone, it’s impossible to follow in the chicane. It’s not for overtaking reasons that they made a chicane, more safety, but insofar as it’s safer, then I’m happy to run with it.”

Massa added: “From the driving point of view it’s worse, for sure, but on the show maybe can be a little bit better for overtaking. In the last corner it used to be just impossible to follow the car in front, because the corner wasn’t flat. Now it’s easy flat so it should be a bit easier to follow car in front without losing speed. That might help to overtake down the straight.”

David Tremayne