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Exclusive interview - McLaren's Lewis Hamilton 04 Mar 2008

Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren Mercedes. Formula One Testing, Day Three, Jerez, Spain, 14 February 2008. World © Patching/Sutton Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren Mercedes MP4/23 Formula One Testing, Day One, Barcelona, Spain, 25 February 2008. World © Moy/Sutton Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren Mercedes MP4/23 Formula One Testing, Day One, Barcelona, Spain, 25 February 2008. World © Patching/Sutton Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren Mercedes MP4/23 Formula One Testing, Day Two, Jerez, Spain, 13 February 2008. World © Patching/Sutton Winner of the Laureus World Breakthrough of the Year award Lewis Hamilton during the Laureus World Sports Awards at the Mariinsky Concert Hall on February 18, 2008 in St.Petersburg, Russia. © Getty Images for Laureus

Re-writing history in your rookie year is not the average start to a driver’s Formula One career. And when your first year has been so startlingly good, as the second season looms there are likely to be higher than average expectations.

McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton, however, shrugs off the pressure with a knowing wink. With a year of intense learning under his belt and a car that already looks like a frontrunner at his disposal, Hamilton is looking as confident and unfazed as ever…

Q: Last year you went into the season with the prevailing sentiment of ‘wow, I am in Formula One’. Then you turned into a championship contender. How do you feel ahead of your second season?
Lewis Hamilton:
I would say it looks pretty much the same. I still feel like ‘wow, I am a Formula One driver’. It’s still hard to believe that I am going into my second season but I feel more confident than this time last year. The knowledge I gained throughout last year as a Formula One driver has given me greater confidence for the 2008 season.

Q: You lived the ‘zero to hero’ dream last year. How has your life changed? What have been the ups and downs and how do you feel about everyone’s high-flying expectations?
I have always had high expectations in all championships. Obviously, Formula One is on another level and you are in front of millions of people and have a huge team and important sponsors behind you, but from a personal perspective my own goals and expectations of myself are the biggest challenge.

Q: The tests have so far given the impression that the MP4-23 is as strong as its predecessor and that you’ll be starting the season at the front. What are your thoughts on the MP4-23?
Yes, I would agree, we have a good car. We are in a similar position to where we were last year, where we also had very good pace. In testing everybody is doing something different so it’s only when we get to the first race where we will see the real pace of ourselves and our competitors, but I’m confident we will be ready.

Q: Looking at Heikki Kovalainen’s test results over the winter, the situation seems pretty even between the pair of you. How are you getting on with him, now you have worked more closely together?
Heikki and I get on really well. We have known each other for a few years. We are both in our second year of Formula One and both of us want to win races and be world champion and do the best job we can for ourselves and for the team. The chemistry is good and we have a laugh, but at end of day we are competitors as well so we will be fighting hard.

Q: Unless BMW Sauber, Renault and Williams make massive strides, it’s likely we’ll see McLaren and Ferrari fighting for victory in Melbourne. Team strategy could make all the difference. Can you draw any conclusions from your experiences last year?
No. We will have to wait and see.

Q: You have signed a five-year contract with the team. It’s a strong commitment from both sides, so what enticed you to sign for so long?
I think it was just an extension of the longevity we have already got. McLaren has been my home for many years so I was just happy that they wanted me to stay. I am committed to McLaren-Mercedes and I want to repay them for their support and belief in me by delivering a world championship - or two - and so it seemed natural to sign a long-term deal. I strongly believe this is where I need to be to be world champion.

Q: Knowing the strengths - and weaknesses - of your team, and having observed your opponents over the last few weeks, how do you believe the first three flyaway races will unfold?
I am extremely comfortable with our 2008 package and look forward to the first three races. Naturally, we will have further developments throughout the season but I think we have a great car, a great team and a great will to win so it will be interesting to see what develops.