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Hamilton and Massa set Sakhir targets 20 Apr 2012

Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren.
Formula One World Championship, Rd4, Bahrain Grand Prix Preparations, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Thursday, 19 April 2012 Third placed Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren MP4-27 crosses the line at the end of the race.
Formula One World Championship, Rd3, Chinese Grand Prix, Shanghai, China, Sunday, 15 April 2012 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren.
Formula One World Championship, Rd4, Bahrain Grand Prix Preparations, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Thursday, 19 April 2012 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren.
Formula One World Championship, Rd4, Bahrain Grand Prix Preparations, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Thursday, 19 April 2012 Felipe Massa (BRA) Ferrari.
Formula One World Championship, Rd4, Bahrain Grand Prix Preparations, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Thursday, 19 April 2012 Felipe Massa (BRA) Ferrari F2012.
Formula One World Championship, Rd3, Chinese Grand Prix Qualifying, Shanghai, China, Saturday, 14 April 2012

Those two old sparring partners McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari’s Felipe Massa come to Bahrain with different mind sets at different stages of their world championship campaigns.

2008 world champion Hamilton seems chilled and calm after his third podium place of the season in China moved him to the head of the points table. The Briton’s head now seems where it should be after the problems of 2010, whilst Massa, the man he so narrowly beat to the title four years ago, is slowly getting to grips with a tricky Ferrari. Both had cause to be optimistic after Shanghai.

“I definitely didn’t expect to be leading the championship with three third places,” Hamilton said yesterday. “The target every year is to have consistency and sometimes it just doesn’t go to plan but this year I think we’ve been quite fortunate. Finishing on the podium for the first three races has been fantastic for us. Obviously it’s very early in the season. In previous seasons you’ve seen championship leaders swapping and changing throughout the year so it doesn’t really mean too much at the moment.”

In his relaxed mood, Hamilton conceded that his recent tough years have helped to hone him. “I definitely think that the last three have added to where I am today. I think there have been a lot of lessons learned and a lot of good and bad experiences which of course definitely help you when you have a good car and when you’re in a much better position.

“As for all athletes, I think you have to get your mind set in a certain way and there are many things that can affect that. For example, look at Tiger Woods. He’s there and sometimes he’s not, and he’s the best out there. It’s really a massive mental game which is about trying to get your mind on the right path. But I feel that I’m there or thereabouts at the moment, still working hard.”

Interestingly, he goes against the current perception that Pirelli’s tyres are the crucial factor in performance this year. “I personally don’t think they’re much more important than in the past,” he said. “I think last year we had similar degradation and we had to manage the tyres in a similar way. If you look at the last race the people on a two-stop were slow at the end of the race and people on three stops were overtaking them. It was the same last year - that’s how I won the race.

“This year the tyre window, the working range, is slightly narrower than it was last year, which is making it a little more difficult for people to warm up the tyres in qualifying, for example. It is a little more challenging but it’s providing good racing.”

Choosing McLaren’s main competition is, he admits, difficult. Of course part of it, for Hamilton, is team mate Jenson Button, part Fernando Alonso who pulled such a great performance out of his Ferrari in Malaysia, and naturally Red Bull. But he admitted that after China, Mercedes can no longer be ignored.

“It’s very difficult to say,” he ventured. “You know, when you look at qualifying we’re competitive there, Mercedes is now the quickest but it’s quite close between a lot of the cars, but in the race pace then you look at the Red Bull being very quick, the Mercedes is very quick, we are quick, even Sauber’s quick. It’s a real mixture at the moment and it’s just about trying to stay consistent and trying to maximise every opportunity you have.”

Massa, meanwhile, comes back to a track that has been good to him in the past, off the back of a batter race in Shanghai, even if it didn’t deliver a solid result.

“For sure it’s a very nice track and I have had a great time here,” he said. “I would expect to have a good race here, the best of the season - so far. I’m just looking forward to having a nice race, scoring good points and working now on having a better race all the time.

“I definitely made progress in Shanghai, even if the result at the end was not very satisfying for the team, for Fernando or for me. It was a normal race in terms of race pace, in terms of qualifying and everything. Everything was normal. For sure it was a much more different race in Shanghai compared to the first two races.

“And I hope that the temperatures here will be more suited to our car. For sure it’s a different track, very different to Shanghai. We’re still working to improve the car, still working to make it more competitive and here it is not so very different to the one we had in Shanghai. So we will see how the behaviour is on this track in qualifying and the race and see if we can do something different, be more competitive than in Shanghai.”

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