In His Own Words: Lewis on our First Race Together
17 March 2013. Melbourne, Australia.
Lewis Hamilton is in unfamiliar surroundings. Having moved teams in the off-season, he's gradually settling into his new environment at Mercedes-AMG. A strong Saturday performance sees the 28-year-old qualify third for the opening Grand Prix of the season.
On Sunday afternoon he heads to the grid and parks his W04 on the second row. Stepping from his car, there's time for a quick chat with his new race engineer Peter Bonnington, covering final preparations for their first race together. Then it's time to put on his yellow crash helmet, get strapped in, and prepare to do battle. As the five lights go out, the opening chapter of this incredible story begins...
As we head back down under 10 years on, we sat down with Lewis to understand what his thoughts were as he embarked on this journey with the Team. One that has so far delivered an unprecedented 82 wins, 77 pole positions, and six Drivers' World Championships.
"Did it feel like a risk? Of course! When you make decisions, you go through changes and it's always going to be a risk. But I would feel like I'm not living if I'm not taking risks, not constantly challenging myself and those around me. It was the inevitable direction I had to go, and it felt right."
That leap of faith was born out of both a desire for change and enthusiasm for an enticing project unfolding at Brackley and Brixworth.
"It was a feeling that I had; I wanted something new. I was excited to work with new people and enter a team that had struggled. Taking everything that I had learned and seeing if I could apply it somewhere else. I was excited by the plans I had heard were being put in place to scale up the Team and going all in to become champions. I went with what I felt in my gut and in my heart. It led me to this amazing Team and this incredible journey we are on."
It was a decision that shocked most of the F1 fraternity. Some questioned the sense in moving to a team that had finished fifth the previous year. Others wrote off the chances of seeing Lewis ever winning another championship.
"So many people told me it was wrong. I knew that if I didn't make the move though, I would have regretted it. I didn't have any second thoughts...although I do remember around Christmas sitting outside in the cold looking over the snowy mountains thinking: 'Shoot! I hope I've made the right decision.'
"I had a moment of reflection and thought: 'We've done it so we're going to give it everything.' I focused on training the best I could and bringing the best I could to the Team. I also thought about how great it would be to get a win in that first season - something we managed to achieve."
Before making his debut for the Team in Australia though, there was plenty of work to do back in the UK.
"I remember my first seat fit and all these changes that I made. At the time the steering column and driving position were very high. I liked to be low in the cockpit, so I remember dropping the steering column and making the seat. I think they were a bit shocked I was moulding my own seat, which drivers don't usually do! It was such a positive experience and it's crazy, heading into my 11th season with the Team, that I do the seat fit with the same great group of people."
There are many team members who were there on that first day and are still with the Team now. There's no time to stand still in this sport though, and Lewis sees the constant development of the team as one of its key strengths.
"If I don't feel like I'm being challenged, I'm not progressing or I'm not evolving, that is where you start thinking about your next move. And I just haven't felt that in these 10 years. I feel like the whole Team has been evolving, with new people, new structures being put in place, new targets being set. I feel that I've had the right team to grow. Not only as a driver but as a man. I've been given the ability to be myself and been accepted by Mercedes.
"And look what we've accomplished together - not only in results on track but things we've accomplished off-track and the steps we've taken. The changes we're making through Accelerate 25 and Mission 44, where we are really starting to impact people. It makes me so proud because we hold ourselves to the highest standards and highest levels in everything we do."
Those standards mean that our current on-track performance provides all the motivation we need to work even harder and smarter.
"We know we're not perfect and we can always be better - that's what we are always trying to do. We don't have a great car right now but we're putting one foot in front of the other. We know we can get back to the front. It's going to be the hardest task we've faced together to get back to where we want to be and catch Red Bull. But what an accomplishment that will be!"