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Exclusive interview with McLaren's Lewis Hamilton 09 Jan 2008

Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren.
Formula One World Championship, Rd17, Brazilian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Interlagos, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Saturday, 20 October 2007 L to R): Lewis Hamilton (GBR) and Heikki Kovalainen (FIN) McLaren Mercedes MP4-23 Launch, Stuttgart, Germany, 7 January 2008. World © Bumstead/Sutton Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren Mercedes MP4/22 
Formula One World Championship, Rd17, Brazilian Grand Prix, Race Day, Interlagos, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sunday, 21 October 2007 (L to R): Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren with father Anthony. McLaren Mercedes MP4-23 Launch, Stuttgart, Germany, 7 January 2008. World © Sutton Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren Mercedes MP4/22. Formula One Testing, Day Three, Jerez, Spain, Thursday, 6 December 2007. World © Hartley/Sutton

What a difference a year makes. Twelve months ago Lewis Hamilton was the innocent rookie, teamed up with the reigning world champion. Now it is Hamilton who looks to be in pole position at McLaren. Relaxed, and with self confidence oozing from every pore, he has proven he can cut it at the very top.

Now he plans to make sure he stays there. With McLaren’s 2007 problems firmly behind them, and the newly-launched MP4-23 at his disposal, Hamilton sees no reason why he won’t again be fighting for the drivers’ title come the end of 2008...

Q: How do you expect your relationship with new team mate Heikki Kovalainen to differ from that you had with Fernando Alonso?
Lewis Hamilton:
I don’t think it’s going be a huge difference because me and
Fernando got on very well. Sure he liked to keep to his own side and do his own thing whereas Heikki is probably more similar to me as I like to talk a lot and he is also quite bubbly. He is more open to talk so it’s easy to speak to him and there is already something of a friendship developing, so it will be a fun season.

Q: What level of input do you feel you have had into the new car?
I think it is the same as all of us in the team. For me having driven last year’s car and coming to this season’s car it means giving correct feedback and doing as much mileage as possible and driving the development in the right direction - and steering the team in the right direction. It’s a big responsibility on all of us drivers, but I am quite relaxed about it. Heikki’s contribution is a bit different as he comes from another team and so he brings information and experience from another team on how they go about things there.

Q: But as Heikki is the newcomer, does that automatically make you the top dog?
We both will be treated equally. And I think that is the best way to do it. At the end of the day we are out there to beat each other, compete with each other, but also to bring the team forward. With Heikki I can clearly see that he wants to beat me and I want to beat him - but all in a fair manner. He is as much a racer as I am.

Q: And obviously he does not come with the baggage of being a twice world champion…
I don’t know what you mean… What I can say is that Heikki and me, we both have that fresh blood and the determination to go somewhere.

Q: Do you think the team will be handicapped by agreeing to suspend development of certain new systems on the car following the Ferrari ‘spy scandal’?
No, we will find other ways of improving the car and continue moving forward. It is part of the sport. The team has gone through a hell of a lot but they still have the same determination and drive to win the world championship - and if we win it’s even better.

Q: Traction control has been banned for ’08. There has been talk that this could prove dangerous in wet conditions such as those we saw at Nurburgring and Fuji last year - what are your thoughts on this?
We will see. I quite liked traction control so it’s a new challenge for the drivers - and for the team, to not have the set-up control and use it to our advantage. So I guess it will be tricky for sure. But look at GP2, look at Formula Three - every other class can drive without it and so we can do it too. It’s harder for sure. In the end racing is our job and we have to give the maximum under whatever technical requirements or outside conditions.

Q: How did you spend the Christmas break?
Training hard. I went to the French mountains and trained walking up the mountains - in the snow. It was a nice snowy Christmas and the icing on the cake was the excellent physical preparation.

Q: And risking a little bit of ‘crystal ball reading’, who do you think will be your biggest opponents in 2008?
The same suspects as last season - plus Heikki. But as Ron (Dennis) said previously, [last year] we were able to collect two times 109 points - true, one point short of 110 - but we have proved our competitiveness as a team so I don’t see any reason why it should change this year.