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Exclusive Lewis Hamilton Q&A: We are way faster than I expected 18 Apr 2013

Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1.
Formula One World Championship, Rd4, Bahrain Grand Prix Preparations, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Thursday, 18 April 2013 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 W04.
Formula One World Championship, Rd3, Chinese Grand Prix, Practice, Shanghai, China, Friday, 12 April 2013 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1.
Formula One World Championship, Rd4, Bahrain Grand Prix Preparations, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Thursday, 18 April 2013 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 W04.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Practice, Sepang, Malaysia, Friday, 22 March 2013 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1.
Formula One World Championship, Rd4, Bahrain Grand Prix Preparations, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Thursday, 18 April 2013 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 W04 is pushed onto the grid.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Race, Sepang, Malaysia, Sunday, 24 March 2013 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1.
Formula One World Championship, Rd1, Australian Grand Prix, Practice, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Friday, 15 March 2013 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 celebrates on the podium.
Formula One World Championship, Rd3, Chinese Grand Prix, Race Day, Shanghai, China, Sunday, 14 April 2013 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1.
Formula One World Championship, Rd1, Australian Grand Prix, Practice, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Friday, 15 March 2013 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 W04 battles with Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Lotus E21.
Formula One World Championship, Rd3, Chinese Grand Prix, Race Day, Shanghai, China, Sunday, 14 April 2013 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 on the podium.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Race, Sepang, Malaysia, Sunday, 24 March 2013 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1.
Formula One World Championship, Rd1, Australian Grand Prix, Preparations, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Thursday, 14 March 2013 Pole sitter Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 celebrates in parc ferme.
Formula One World Championship, Rd3, Chinese Grand Prix, Qualifying, Shanghai, China, Saturday, 13 April 2013

When it was announced late last year that Lewis Hamilton would be leaving McLaren to join Mercedes in 2013, there was considerable shock in the paddock. But after three races - and two podium finishes - Hamilton’s bold decision looks to have paid immediate dividends. We caught up with the 2008 world champion in Bahrain to discuss, amongst other things, what’s gone right at Mercedes and what might be going wrong at his old team…

Q: Lewis, you must laugh at all those who predicted that your career would go south when you joined Mercedes. How does it feel proving them all wrong?
Lewis Hamilton:
It feels nice! (laughs) It is good to walk around with my head up and smile at all those who have helped me in my decision and gave me the opportunity. I also feel good about myself. I have really thought it through and it is great to see now that the team is doing so well and that I can contribute to that success.

Q: Can it be that you are the one who is most surprised about the current situation?
LH:
No, not really. I remember meeting with Ross (Brawn) before I signed; he came to my house and we sat down and he told me all the plans and I have been in the sport long enough to understand what he was talking about. I could see that Mercedes were en route to making some very positive changes - that they were really, really determined to turn things around. He showed me what potential there was in the car and I thought ‘wow, this sounds good’. Of course I didn’t know how good it would be and, to be honest, I never expected it to be as good as it is now. I thought it would be a slow but steady improvement - but it is way faster than I expected.

Q: The McLaren was the fastest car on the grid at the end of last season and the Mercedes was sometimes two seconds off the pace, but now - after three races - Mercedes is way ahead of McLaren. Would you have believed that if somebody had told you so?
LH:
Definitely not. That is probably the biggest surprise - where we are in relation to them. The McLaren at the end of last year was awesome - the quickest car on the grid - and usually if you have the quickest car and there are not massive changes in the regulations you carry that into the next year. So it should, again, be a quick and awesome car, but for some reason - I don’t know why - it hasn‘t happened that way. But that is not my concern anymore! (laughs) And take Mercedes: they had a car that was nowhere, and look - we had a pole position last weekend! What a great feeling that was - it is a beautiful car to drive.

Q: So that marathon of improvement actually turned out to be a sprint…
LH:
Ah, it’s not that easy. We still have a lot of work to do. It is still early in the season and we can still have bad races. But fingers crossed that won’t happen.

Q: What is going so wrong at your old team, McLaren?
LH:
I don’t really know - I haven’t even spoken to the drivers about what is happening there. It surely has something to do with the downforce on the car. It was there all last year but probably they tweaked something. I thought that the car looked the same, but I was told that they’ve changed the car completely. They’ve probably made some big decisions which they thought would translate into big gains, but that hasn’t happened. Actions like that are not unusual with McLaren. I have experienced that in the past, particularly in 2009 and in 2010 as well. So it’s not unheard of that they make drastic changes. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

Q: And what’s going so right in your current team, Mercedes? The winter tests weren’t that promising - and suddenly you have a pole in China and two podium places so far…
LH:
I think that they’ve been lost before. They have even said that. The aerodynamics, the wind tunnel - people were in the wrong place - so they took a step back and tried to analyse everything and move things into the right position. The car has just been on a positive curve since they changed the wind tunnel - since they made all these changes within the last half year - and they’ve been improving at a very serious rate.

Q: And obviously with you they’ve put the right man in the cockpit…
LH:
Hopefully. I’ve tried to be as helpful as possible. But even if they didn’t get the results last year, this is a fantastic team and they clearly had the ability back then - but sometimes you just get lost. Even with McLaren - such a great team - they have troubles now. It is so easy to lose your way and it is so hard to find it again. I am so glad that Mercedes have now found it.

Q: We hear that there will be no more team order at Mercedes. Were you surprised that there was one issued in the first place?
LH:
True, I haven’t been in that position for a long time and obviously it came as a surprise. I tell you, it is not the greatest of experiences. After the race, as we sat down and talked, I understood the situation and now I feel a lot more positive about it, but also we must make sure that we are never in such a position again.

Q: Without a robust ego you don’t get anywhere in F1 racing. How much elbow room should there be for a driver?
LH:
Oh yes. (laughs) Wow, that’s an interesting question - I have never been asked that before. Let me think: I feel that I am fully a team player. Of course when you are driving and are in the position that Nico (Rosberg) was in, he had to put his own ego to one side. Even for me, my ego was affected by it because my team mate was quicker than me at the point, and that is something a driver never wants to see - that his team mate is faster.

Q: So at that point you were both losers - you because he was faster, and Nico because you bagged his podium?
LH:
Let’s put it this way: it was a win-lose, win-lose situation.

Q: Your lapse in Malaysia when trying to pit at the wrong team caused much laughter. But in reality, how much contact do you still have with McLaren? You’ve grown up with them so a new contract can hardly cut off such deep roots…
LH:
I went to see them in Australia. But I also tried to see them in Jerez, at the test, and there Sam Michael threw me out of the garage. That wasn’t very positive and I don’t feel very good about that. Martin (Whitmarsh) has been great and I have to say that I haven’t had enough contact, so I will give Martin a call.

Q: You’ve looked more concentrated since you joined Mercedes, but you also seem to laugh less - at least during your working hours. Why?
LH:
Really? Maybe it is that I have so much to take in at the moment. I don’t have time to laugh and chill. When I was at McLaren I was at the top of everything - I knew everything: what the car was doing, how people reacted - so it was a lot easier as I knew exactly how I wanted to have my car set up. Here I have so much more work to do with the engineers - so many new, different things on the car that I still don’t fully understand - so I have no time to mess around. But don’t get me wrong: I am still having a great time.

Q: From Barcelona onwards, there has been talk of Pirelli looking at the tyre situation. If they made changes would the racing lose the current spice and is there really such suffering at the moment? The way the tyres are now seems to separate the wheat from the chaff in terms of drivers…
LH:
I don’t know what’s coming our way, any improvement is welcomed and will be very positive. And about the wheat and the chaff; that’s not really so. The more balls you can juggle the better you are - all the different techniques you have to do to look after your tyres the better you are as a driver - and that is the challenge. So hopefully after Barcelona there will be fewer balls that we have to juggle.

Q: A pole position and two P3 finishes. Isn’t it about time to count down?
LH:
Well, yes, second place is the next position. One step at a time. I don’t want to shoot straight at P1 - but of course if it comes, it comes. I am not saying ‘we have to win’. So if we move forward - a second place and then a first - that would be fantastic. So my target for this weekend is to finish higher than last weekend. And all signals suggest that we can do it. I feel very positive for this weekend. Sure it is a very tough track for tyre degradation, but generally I’ve always been quite quick here. So I’ll keep fingers crossed to end up in a better position than last weekend. (laughs)

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