Exclusive Hamilton Q&A: I'm more committed than ever 17 Feb 2009
On the final day of last weeks Jerez test, McLarens Lewis Hamilton was the fastest driver in a 2009 car. And although its still too early to draw any firm conclusions about the season ahead, Hamilton is confident that the MP4-24 will be more than capable of matching its predecessors pace. But however satisfied he may be with pre-season testing, the reigning world champion is determined to work harder than ever to give himself the best chance of defending his title...
Q: Lewis, at the MP4-24s rollout in Portugal you didn't have much time to sample the new car because of the weather. You racked up much more mileage at last weeks Jerez test, so what can you tell us about your new workplace for 2009?
Lewis Hamilton: Unfortunately, the weather in Portugal was not as we would have expected, but we did manage to put some miles on the MP4-24 and complete part of our test programme. The test in Spain was a little more productive. With warm temperatures and blue skies, we were finally able to start unlocking the potential of the car and discover just how it works. My first impressions are very favourable - the car has been very reliable, it feels very solid beneath me and doesn't have any vices. Looking at the programme ahead of us, I think we will be competitive in Melbourne next month.
Q: Every year before the season starts there is a lot of uncertainty for teams about how their new car will compare to the competition. This feeling seems to have been enhanced this year by the far-reaching changes to the regulations. Are you concerned about any particular aspect of the MP4-24?
LH: I think every team wants to know the strength of its rivals - but that's the same every winter. Of course, there are lots of unknowns facing us this year - new aero rules, slick tyres, KERS - and that makes it even harder to predict the order, once the season starts. We are working on a normal development programme with the MP4-24 and, like every team, will be working hard to ensure that the car runs smoothly on the slick tyres, and that KERS is reliable and fully operational, ahead of the new season.
Q: You tested the teams KERS device in Spain last week. Did it run smoothly? And how easy has it been to adjust to the addition of the KERS button to the cockpit?
LH: To be honest, you very quickly get used to using the cockpit KERS button. Don't forget that we already have a lot of dials and switches on the steering wheel, so another one or two buttons isn't going to make too much of a difference. And you soon learn how and when to use KERS; which corners benefit most from it and when you shouldn't be pressing it, when the car is already on the grip limit. Of course, unlike the engines, which are frozen, KERS development will continue throughout the whole season so it's an area where the teams will be making advances on a regular basis. But I like it - it's something else to play with in the cockpit, and that's not a bad thing.
Q: A few of the drivers would prefer to run without it, with some worried about safety, while others are concerned about the extra weight. What is your stance on KERS?
LH: Of course, there are safety concerns but I'm extremely comfortable with the way both McLaren and Mercedes-Benz HighPerformanceEngines have approached the KERS programme. I can tell you everything related to KERS has been designed with safety in mind, so I'm happy that our car will be safe. And the way you use it will vary from track to track. Maybe some teams won't run it at every race. It's not a discussion that I'm involved in - I just press the button when I am in the cockpit!
Q: The decision of Ron Dennis to step down as McLaren team principal came as a big surprise to many. What do you think will change once Martin Whitmarsh takes on the role?
LH: I know Ron and Martin very well. And I'm sure that the change at the top of the team will only bring us benefits. It will allow Ron to take a step back and concentrate on running the whole group, and it will also allow Martin to get fully involved in the Formula One team. But I don't think you'll see many big changes - there's not much that needs changing, after all. I know a lot of people will be watching Martin once we get to Australia, but he's a great bloke; really professional, a good laugh and totally committed. I know he'll do a fantastic job.
Q: Its said that the first title is the hardest to achieve. Now that you have it under your belt, how are you feeling about the forthcoming season? Do you feel more relaxed?
LH: Winning the world championship in Brazil seems such a long time ago now - things move so fast in Formula One, even when you're not at the racetrack! To be honest, I don't really think of myself as world champion yet - I think that will finally sink in when I get to Melbourne for the first race - so I don't put any extra pressure on myself to live up to that. Obviously, becoming the champion does take some weight off your shoulders but I don't really look too closely at it: I'm just spending every moment focusing on 2009, improving my fitness, working with the team and testing the car. I'm more committed than ever.