Lewis Hamilton: Good afternoon everyone. First press conference of the year! It’s been incredible to be at the factory for the last week or so, to see the guys starting to put this car together in the last hours of last night, watching the guys putting the final pieces together. It’s kind of crazy because you see the car growing in the wind tunnel and the things they’re trying, then you see the mock up, then you see it down in the factory – from all these different sections of the factory, all these different components start coming together and the car starts coming together like a jigsaw. It’s quite incredible. But watching it last night, undoubtedly for me, it’s the most detailed car I think we have ever built as a team and it just shows the innovation, the technology and the engineers’ knowledge of how to interpret design is evolving. At some stage, you’ll get to see more and more of the intricacies of the car – but it’s fascinating for me and today I drove it.
It was still damp when I drove so I was on the wet tyres initially. The feeling wasn’t spectacular because it’s quite gusty, particularly round the back here. We put slicks on when it dried up a bit more and then I was pushing a little bit. There was so much grip in Stowe because you had a massive head wind, which is the same as when you’re at a race and you have a head wind or tail wind. The car doesn’t naturally feel much different. You feel a little bit wider but my seat position, my whole cockpit… we made sure it was made pretty much the same as before. We didn’t have max power or anything like that so I don’t really get to unleash it until next week.
Q: (Unknown) This is the tenth anniversary of your F1 debut this season. What’s your mind-set going into 2017?
LH: Well, the mind-set’s the same as it is every year. I want to win. It’s a pretty simple mind-set to have. It’s a lot harder to do that but every year I want to grow, I want to improve as a driver and as a human being and your use of time, your use of energy and the work you do with your engineers. I think, particularly at the end of last year, I had an incredible relationship with my mechanics, my engineers, together through a difficult season. We won the last five races, so it’s really to try and get back in the season, start on the right foot, try to continue if we can in the same form as a unit as we did at the last race.
Q: (Chris Stevens – Formula Spy) You’ve been quite critical of the sport in recent weeks. I’m just wondering, from what you’ve seen of Formula One 2017 so far, has it fulfilled your expectations? Does it excite you?
LH: Seeing Valtteri pull round Stowe just now and come into the pit lane... I mean, the car looks awesome, it really does. I think the cars look so much better than they have in the past. How that reflects to racing and the spectacle for the fans is yet to be seen but I hope it is and my opinion is only my opinion. You guys will all have your own opinion, the fans will have their own opinions on things. It’s just that you ask me for my opinion so sometimes I give it. For example, the sound... some people like it, some people don’t. But I think Formula One’s future is incredibly bright, or has the potential to be incredibly bright. With the new people coming in and with the people who are still in the sport, I think they have every opportunity to make it shine even greater than it already does.
Q: (Jonathan Grainger – jongraingeronmotorsport.com) Lewis you seem to be one of the most active drivers on social media, you really set the trend – we can follow exactly what you’re doing. With the new owners of Formula One being a media company, what would you advise them so that they can better engage with the fans as you have done?
LH: I don’t have all the answers, it’s obviously not my expertise but, if you look at football, social media is so much greater. They utilise social media a lot better in football, in the NBA and the NFL. In Formula One, every time, for example, I would have posted a picture or a video, I would have got a warning from the FIA or a notice telling me to take it down, so this year I’m hoping that they will change that rule and allow social media.
Social media is obviously an incredible platform for the world to communicate with and for the sport to be able to grow. It’s a super easy free tool for the sport – for us to be able to share it, to engage with other people. You know there’s people who are following me – some people who are online right now – who have not been Formula One fans for a long time but one of their friends who happens to follow me or one of the other drivers has said to follow and has since they’ve started to watch the races or something like that. So, I’m sure it’s the new way forwards.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines) Lewis, although you clarified your stance recently about the data sharing etc, obviously data sharing is a sign of teamwork. Do you wish that Formula One was not actually a team? Do you wish that your operation was dedicated only to Lewis Hamilton, or can you see it should be two drivers?
LH: No, that’s not my point and. What I actually referred to is that I think that it’s great that the team continues to move forward. I think it’s very important for us, for them, to share the information on the cars engineering-wise. To advance the car, that’s very important. What I referred to is me as an individual. My job, when I arrive at a track, is to be the best – to get out there and exploit the car in the best way I know and the best way I can discover myself. The way that the sport is now is that whoever is your teammate, you get to see the data and compare your data to it and you see whether there’s improvements in someone else’s style you can adapt to.
I just feel that, to make it harder for us drivers, they should remove that, because then it means that we have to rely on our own data so you can compare your own lap to your own lap before. You go out, you try a different line in the corner, it may or may not work. There’s going to be weekends when you get it right and then there’s weekends where you just don’t know where the time is and you can’t find out what the other way does. I just think that makes it more of a challenge for a driver. Ultimately, I just think the better driver will get there faster or will find something new faster than the others. That’s really my point.
Q: (David Tremayne – The Independent) Hi Lewis. Pirelli say their tyres are going to be more durable. How much are you hoping that’s going to be case and that the racing is going to be purer because you can be on it for more than you’ve been able to for the last three or four years?
LH: I heard through the testing that they’re going to be more consistent. I think that will be fantastic for us because there will be more sprint-like stints. In the past, one that I remember in particular was Monza last year, I fell back to fourth or fifth and it’s like you only have a certain amount of life in your tyre. You’re trying to get back past the cars in front, using it as little as possible to get back into the position so that you can chase the guys in front. I got back to second and I had nothing left in the tyre. If I’d continued to push at the pace I was, I may have caught up for a couple of laps but I would have lost out overall in the race because I’d have spent all my money, basically, in my tyres. I think it’s great – and hopefully it is the case – that they’ve made the tyres more durable. You can slide them more, be more aggressive on them and continue to push. So that we’re more on the limit every single lap. That’s how it should be, I think.
Q: (Stephen Errity – Auto Express) Lewis, what impression have you got from the simulator and in driving this morning as to whether it will be easier to overtake this year?
LH: In the simulator you definitely can’t get a feeling for that because we don’t ever have another car on track. I can only say from my feedback from the engineers, that it will be worse – because the car is much wider, with bigger tyres and a lot more downforce, so the vortices that spiral down the car are much stronger than they were. So, the dirty air that comes out the back of the car is far more powerful and more turbulent than it has been in the past. And that’s really where tyre grip would come into it – but I don’t know if the tyres are going to be more grippy. We’ll find out, I guess, when we get to the test. I hope it’s better – but don’t hold your breath.
Q: (Martin Moravec – dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH) Mr. Hamilton. With Valtteri Bottas you have now a new team-mate but will you somehow miss Nico as a competitor?
LH: I don’t think I’ve ever missed a team-mate in my life because generally there’s always another one that takes his place. It’s definitely going to feel strange, it already is, being down in the garage, seeing someone else in the car next to me. But you soon get past it and you soon get on. One day, when I leave, another driver will come along and initially, perhaps, it will feel strange – but you get used to it immediately and will soon… not forget. But you soon get used to what you have. Valtteri seems to have settled in quite comfortably already in a short space of time and I know he’s working very hard with all the engineers to acclimatise. He’s got a great frame of mind, a lot of positive energy in him just in general. Excited to work with him.
Q: (Kevin Garside – i newspaper) Lewis, Nico paid you the complement of retiring, saying that he just basically couldn’t get up for another year, going up against you every fortnight, which kind of says something about your intensity that you bring to this game. How did you view that kind of commentary? And what do believe you have that makes it so difficult for others to race against you as a team-mate, if he found it so hard?
LH: That’s a difficult question for someone to answer about themselves. I don’t know. Formula One in general is such an intense sport. The intensity and the rivalry. You talk about it being a team – which we are – but there’s two Championships. There’s a Drivers’ Championship and in the Drivers’ Championship it is about the one driver. Each individual driver. You’re not out there racing to help the other driver win the Championship. I guess it’s just the intensity of staying focused, fit, consistent. The challenge of a racing driver is always to be the fastest, both in testing and in the race, through strategy, through use of tyres, through engine use, through fuel use, through all these different things to be the most all-round driver. As team-mates that’s where you really have to push each other to raise your game in all of those areas.
It’s not just going out and driving a lap. It’s everywhere: your technique; as I said it’s your fuel usage; it’s how you interact with your engineers; it’s how you interact with the media; it’s social media and how you engage with the fans. It’s a real broad spectrum of things and it’s not an easy job. I honestly don’t know all of the reasons that made Nico decide to stop but I can empathise with the feeling of wanting to stop and do something different. Every now and then I have a thought about what I do afterwards – but then I see that car and I’m like: “I think I’m going to stay!” I don’t know how long I’ll be staying but at the moment I’m still competitive, I’m still hungry and I’m still driving at my best, so I will continue to do so. No matter who I race against, I feel I can put up a good fight.
Q: (Phil Duncan – PA) Lewis, you said that you weren’t surprised that Nico retired. Do you think one of the reasons that he did retire was that, on a level playing field this year, you may have constantly beat him giving the mechanical problems you had last year and that was one of his fears: that you would easily beat him this year?
LH: To be honest, you really have to ask him. I can’t really answer that, if I believe he thinks going into this year he would be beat. I think ultimately it’s always a great thing to be able to go out on top and I think the big question for any athlete at the top level is probably: at what point are you at the top and are you going to continue to be at the top? I’m sure that has to be part of your decision-making. It’s been a long, long, hard slog for him and he finally got it. Maybe he’s thinking: ‘I want to keep it just as it is’ and not risk retiring at the end of this year and not being in the same position. Maybe. I don’t know. But I don’t think like that. I win the Championship and I want to fight for it again the next year.
It’s like it all starts again. And it is a clean slate this year. We’ve got almost a completely new formula and it’s a challenge for everyone – for the team, the people I’m working with, and a challenge for us drivers. Who can exploit the car best? Who can be the most consistent? Who can be quickest out of the gate? I love that challenge every single year and, if another driver’s doing it better than me I love the challenge of trying to catch up and find how I can do a better job than him.
Q: (Stephen Camp – readmotorsport.com) Given the long history between yourself and Nico, how refreshing is it to have a new team-mate now in Valtteri and have you have much relationship with him already?
LH: Fresh blood, new ideas is always a great thing. Valtteri’s fresh new ideas and energy and experiences will add to the great foundation we already have as a team. I don’t know Valtteri very well. I’ve seen him at the race track every now and again and we bump into each other on the parade or in the drivers’ briefing and that’s been it. We’ve always had pleasant, short discussions. I saw him at the factory, saw him the other day as the car was being built, it’s only really the third time that I’ve seen him, we had a small chat then and we’ve had a small chat today as well. Ultimately right now there’s no competition between us. It’s purely a discussion on a gentleman’s level. That seems to be completely fine. When he sees me at my most intense moment, and vice-versa, that will be an interesting scenario for us. That’s something we’ll discover about each other, where the strengths and weaknesses are. He wants to beat me probably just as much as I want to beat him, which is natural. I wouldn’t expect anything but the best from him. I want him to be at his best.
Q: (Unknown) You speak of your passion and your hunger but there were some really low moments last season. I want to know how those low moments are driving you this season?
LH: Right now, my feelings from last year aren’t lingering. I start a new slate and move on. Speaking for myself, naturally what I experience, I feel you either gain or lose something. I think last year all those experiences, as in all the previous years, have helped me strengthen. Sometimes you don’t know how to get through things and you find a new tool and a new way of getting past it and coming out stronger the other side. It’s not always the case but generally – mostly – it’s the way it goes.
I feel this year I’m stronger again. I feel more complete as a driver and I think whatever it is I’m going to face this year – and I have no idea what it’s going to be – I feel like I’m the best prepared I’ve ever been. If I knew what I knew now in 2007… yeah, I’d have probably done a lot better. Not that I did too bad. Of course, I didn’t win the World Championship last year and I want to change that.
I’ve got a strong feeling we still have the best team. How we’ve interpreted the rules and how we’ve built the car, we will find out in the next week how our performance is relative to others. I hope for the fans that it’s a close battle. When you have just one team winning it’s definitely less exciting than when, week-in, week-out, you don’t know who’s going to be at the front. I hope the driver can make the difference. So, closer between the cars but then the driver can make the difference – that’s what I’m hoping.
Q: (Rebecca Clancy – The Times) Lewis, you said that the cars will be a massive challenge this year and you don’t know whether you’re fit enough. How’s your training gone over the winter? Have you changed your diet? Have you put on any weight? Do you think you’re physically ready for this season?
LH: I’m definitely mentally ready for the season. Time will tell whether I’m physically ready. Every year is a little bit different. Sometimes you start training earlier, sometimes you train later, sometimes you do more intense training for a shorter period. I’ve done it a little bit different this year and it’s been more enjoyable, that’s for sure. I started a little bit later. Usually I start at the end of December, this year I started early January. I’ll get in the car next week and after the first day I’ll know exactly where I’m weak.
Whoever it is, it doesn’t matter how fit you are or how hard you train, if you train every single day in the gym or you run every single day of your life, you get in that car and it beats the crap out of you. It just does. There’s just no simulation for it. Whether you feel it in your neck or a muscle you didn’t even know you had, deep down under your ribcage, you think “what the hell?” And though those test days you figure those out, you make notes about it, you work on those weak areas. I’m continuing to train right now and I hope when I get in the car I have no problems. In the small bit of driving here, I didn’t go massively fast but I didn’t feel like it was an issue. As soon as we get to Barcelona, when we’re flat-out through Turn Three, that’s definitely going to put our bodies to the test, I think.