• Briton’s season spun out of control at Monaco in 2011
• McLaren driver delighted by move to principality
Lewis Hamilton returned to the scene of where it all started to unravel last year and talked about the new calmness that surrounds him this season.
“I don’t want to speak too early,” he said, “but something has definitely changed this year. It’s just the work that I’ve been doing. Whatever I’m doing is working. Things are a lot better. Just in life. That’s enabling me to get on with my job without having any baggage. I don’t have any baggage this year.”
It was in this race last year that the most tumultuous season of Hamilton’s career started to implode. After being issued with two drive-through penalties following collisions with Felipe Massa and Pastor Maldonado he said: “It’s an absolute frickin’ joke. I’ve been to see the stewards five times out of six [races] this season.” He then invoked Ali G’s catchphrase when he said: “Maybe it’s because I’m black.”
Hamilton, who is aiming this weekend to become the sixth different winner in as many races, has turned it round to become arguably the most impressive driver in 2012, starting the season with three podium finishes.
But in every race he has been dogged by ill fortune or team errors. In the first race, in Australia, he started on pole but was unlucky with the use of the safety car. In Malaysia he again started on pole only to be hauled back by problems at two pit stops. In China he started second but was put back five places because of a gearbox change.
In Bahrain he tumbled back through the field after wheel nut problems and in the last race, in Spain, he was pushed from pole to the back of the grid after running out of fuel during qualifying. But he has taken each setback with equanimity and, after the Spanish race, Martin Whitmarsh, the McLaren team principal, said: “I have seen a greatness in him I had never seen before. He was consoling me at the end.”
Hamilton, a winner here in his championship year of 2008, has forgiven Monaco so completely for last year’s problems that he even moved to the principality a few months ago. “I love it here. To be able to wake up in your own bed and drive just down the road and be at work is a fantastic feeling,” he said.
“Today was the first experience of that but I’m sure it will make quite a big difference. When I lived in Switzerland it was one of the most beautiful countries I’d ever been to. But I was living away from the city and it was very quiet. Here it’s sunny every day, there are great restaurants a couple of minutes from where I live, there’s a gym, a pool and almost every day I go running round the track.
“It’s incredible to run around your favourite track. I go through the tunnel and cannot believe I’m here. I have to pinch myself every day, thinking: ‘Wow, I’m running through the tunnel that the greats, like Michael [Schumacher] and Ayrton [Senna], used to race around.'”