• McLaren driver banishes distractions for new campaign
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Lewis Hamilton says he has banished the distractions that so disrupted last season’s “shocking year” and, armed with a new support staff and a fresh attitude, has redefined his focus going into the first round of the Formula One season in Melbourne.
“Every time I go through the gates when I get to the circuit, it is always a great feeling,” he says, as he prepares for the Australian Grand Prix next Sunday. “I would definitely say that sometimes last year I did not have such a great feeling. Maybe you have not come from such a great race, but this is a new year, a new chapter and a new chance ahead. It is an exciting time.”
There were times last season when the McLaren driver appeared to be driving the world’s fastest psychiatrist’s couch. There were highs – brilliant drives in China, Germany and Abu Dhabi – but they were overshadowed by the lows, when anxieties crowded in and his running spat with Ferrari’s Felipe Massa drove his title bid off the rails.
Then – as Massa and Kamui Kobayashi, among others, would confirm – he was about as dangerous a rival as Messala, in Ben-Hur, who drove his chariot with blades on the hubs to destroy the opposition, but succeeded only in destroying himself.
This campaign, Hamilton says, will be different, however. Last year, conversation about Hamilton centred on his on-off relationship with his girlfriend, on his professionally estranged father and the people he brought in to manage him. He does not want to dwell on personal issues. “I’m looking forwards,” he says. “This year I have focused on my relationship with the team, my mechanics and my group of people who I have put together, and making sure I am fit and healthy. This is what matters. Last year has no bearing on me. I don’t care about last year.”
Despite talk of a revitalised Michael Schumacher and Mark Webber, of Fernando Alonso’s brooding greatness and of the serenity of his team-mate, Jenson Button, Hamilton is arguably the most likely man to deprive Sebastian Vettel of a hat-trick of championships. He just may have the car. He certainly has the ability and this year, most important of all, he appears to have the resolve to do the job and add to his 2008 world title.
“You have to keep your eye on the ball and stay focused during training and not waste energy. I was massively disciplined in 2006 and 2007. It is not necessarily that I lost that discipline, but now it’s back more to what it used to be. It is all about sacrifices. It is about the travelling you do and the decisions you make, and the things you want to do with your life.”
Hamilton then outlines what he, a millionaire Formula One driver, considers a sacrifice. “I sacrifice things, like if I get a call from a friend who says: ‘Do you want to go out tonight?’ and it is before a race weekend or when the season starts, instead of saying: ‘Yeah, let’s go out and do it,’ I’ll be staying at home and training the next day.
“That’s the sacrifice you need to make in Formula One. Last year there were quite a few times when I went out and enjoyed myself, thinking: ‘These things don’t affect you.’ But they do. It takes two days to recover and then you have missed two days of training, and your thoughts are somewhere else after that.”
Hamilton denies that he was also affected last year when his fellow Briton Button became his first McLaren team-mate to beat him over the course of a season. “It didn’t bother me. If it was a case that we had both been very close over the year and I had lost it when it was fiercely competitive, I guess it would have been quite tough.
“But it was a year where I was throwing away points and making silly mistakes. Sometimes I was a little unfortunate, but it was a shocking year and I was not too devastated by it.
“You have to draw a line under it. At the end of the day, he did not win the world championship. If he had it would have been even worse. But there are still many years ahead and I do not plan on that being the case this year.
“I am in a good place – and Vettel is not invincible.”