Arriving in Monaco on the back of four straight wins and as odds-on title favourite, it’s a very relaxed Hamilton who is happy to talk about team mates, the music business, flying home with Niki Lauda, and his renewed hunger for a second drivers’ crown…
Q: Lewis, four wins in a row - and counting. It’s as if you have picked up where Sebastian Vettel left off at the end of 2013…
Lewis Hamilton: Yes, it’s incredible what has happened. Who would have thought that it would be as good as it is right now? This team is just growing. I knew that it would grow, but never as much as this. At the moment I am just counting my blessings and enjoying every single moment. And yes, I am grateful for getting these wins - and I hope it will continue that way, for many years to come.
Q: It seems that so far in your career you’ve always been in the right place at the right time. Is that by instinct?
LH: Well, I’ve not always been in the right place at the right time, but it’s true at many times I have been. In 2005 at ART I’ve been at the right place at the right time - also in 2006 I was at ART to get the place in 2007 at McLaren. And again this was at the right time because Fernando (Alonso) was there to help make myself quicker. So yes, there have been quite a number of ‘right time, right place’ moves, and particularly the move to Mercedes - as this was my own decision. There wasn’t one single person around me that influenced me. There wasn’t my dad telling me I have to go here - my dad told me to stay at McLaren - there wasn’t my brother nor my mum - no one. I did it on my own - and that’s why it is even more satisfying to know that I’ve finally grown up and made the decision. Whatever the case might have been - even if we weren’t having success - I would stand by my decision because the team feels fantastic.
Q: It looks almost certain that it will be you and your team mate Nico Rosberg fighting for the title. One German publication asked last weekend whether Nico is too soft for that fight - because you have more killer instinct. Is that so?
LH: Let me tell you this: I come from a not-great place in Stevenage and lived on a couch in my dad’s apartment - and Nico grew up in Monaco with jets and hotels and boats and all these kind of things - so the hunger is different. I want to be the hungriest guy in the cockpit from all 22 of us - even if every driver has to believe that he’s the hungriest - because if I were to come here believing that Nico is hungrier than me then I might as well go home. So I’ve got to be the hungriest - to win the world championship you need to be the hungriest.
Q: Last season we asked you about needing the biggest elbows to go all the way to the top. Then it was a bit hypothetical, but since Bahrain it is a real question…
LH: It is all about grabbing the opportunity when you have it. I would have never dreamed of having a car as good as I have now - so I will use it to my best advantage. But I have a team mate who is pushing me to the limit. Fortunately for the moment that’s not so bad - because I am not so bad on the limit. Sure every driver would die to be in our position, in our team, but just look back - for four years it was Sebastian, for several years it was Michael (Schumacher), for several years it was Ayrton…
Q: That sounds like somebody who is looking to turn himself into a serial winner. Is that so?
LH: Yes. But I would want to be known for fighting. Even if we are a dominating team, I don’t beat my team mate by 40 seconds. Take the last race - it was six-tenths between us at the flag, which hasn’t been often the case with the winner in the past four years. I want to be known for racing.
Q: Of course the relationship between the two of you will get tougher. Nico said that there will always be something in his fridge for you …
LH: …ah, that’s a cool way to put it! When you’re so competitive it is impossible to be best friends - but then it stays respectful. We will always have the years in karting, that kind of foundation of a long time ago…
Q: So you can always ring his doorbell and vice versa?
LH: Of course. For example, I have been storing my safe in his house for several months and just took it back now - and that could always also be the other way around.
Q: You have already won a title. What have you learned about what kind of personality it takes?
LH: To be honest it feels like such a long time ago that I don’t really remember, so it feels fresh and new this year. It feels unknown. So even though I had the experience before, I really don’t remember it much. When I won the championship I was pretty much used to winning championships, as I’d won championships in previous years. Now, though, it’s been several years since I won the championship - and it feels brand new.
Q: You are the closest thing to a celebrity in the paddock. You spend a lot of time in Los Angeles - close to the music and movie business, where it’s said to be many times harder to make it than in motor racing. Have you learnt anything there?
LH: I think you can’t compare music to Formula One. Firstly there are more people in the music business - here there are only 22 of us. But what I could imagine is that trying to get into F1 is probably like going to be a top singer or movie star: it’s a real hassle! But one thing is different - it’s a lot more expensive to be a racing driver. To get the sponsorship to be a race driver is way, way more money than to record an album. To go out and find the money to race a season - like something in the range of two million euros a season in GP2 - that is really tough. Sure, the music industry is no walk in the park either - I know Nicole (Scherzinger) had real struggles to get where she is in the music industry. Of course everything changes once you are there - F1 and music industry alike. Where both overlap is that you have to have the same work ethic - otherwise you don’t get anywhere in either world.
Q: After your China win Niki Lauda was flying you home, which is a pretty big gesture. Did the two of you get down to the nitty-gritty of the title winning business?
LH: We hardly ever talk about his racing past. Sometimes he mentions a race he’s done, but that’s about it. We found out that we are both very particular about certain things: when I get on my plane I don’t let anyone wear shoes, I like to keep it clean and tidy. And then I came on his plane doing the same things I always do on mine and he was like, ‘This is how I do it, thank you very much!’
Q: So you immediately earned yourself frequent-flyer status there?
LH: Yes, I think I bought myself many air miles there! (laughs)
Q: You’ve won Monaco once - albeit quite a while ago in 2008 - so in theory you know how to do it. Can you tell us what it takes?
LH: First and foremost you’ve got to have the right team and the right car. It’s a massively mentally demanding weekend. There is no way you can just get into the car and drive. It’s one of the most scary rollercoaster rides you can imagine.
Q: So you would like to start from P1 and finish in P1?
LH: Ha, just from past experience the race is not long enough to start from somewhere other than the first row. If the race was 155 laps then probably you could start a little bit further back, but not with 78 laps as overtaking is almost impossible. At other tracks you need to have a 1.2- or 1.3-second advantage on the car in front to be able to overtake or get in the DRS zone - here it has to be 3 seconds. And there’s no DRS zone really - the DRS zone here gains you two metres by Turn 1, so getting by people is really difficult, especially as it is quite easy to make your car look like a bus! So: better start at the front!
Q: Your dream result on Sunday afternoon?
LH: For me or the team?
Q: For you?
LH: Ha, finishing first, Fernando finishing second and Sebastian finishing third. That would be it for me. The dream result for the team would be the Mercedes cars finishing one-two and one of those guys in third.