Story By Livio Orrichio and Dan Knutson
Lewis Hamilton is racing better than ever. The Mercedes driver won 11 of the 21 Formula One events in 2018 to earn his fifth FIA Formula One title. He is now in the elite group of just three drivers who have won five or more titles alongside Juan Manuel Fangio (five) and Michael Schumacher (seven).
At the end of last season, Hamilton sat down and discussed a wide variety of subjects.
Q: Compared to your main championship rival — Sebastian Vettel — your season was virtually error-free. To what do you credit that?
Hamilton: That has come with a lot of experience. A lot of patience. And knowing when to be aggressive and when to attack, when to defend. There is instinct, experience and having ability. Ultimately, the more experience you have you are able to slow it all down and choose your moments. The races were my real specialty, which have always been quite strong for me. The qualifying was up and down for a period of time and I was not happy with it for a while.
Then I really started to hit it on the head and it really started to have special moments when it all comes together. I don’t remember leaving a race this year thinking I wish I’d drove like this, I wish I’d did this or that. I often thought wow, I gave that everything I had. I don’t know if I could have done it better. I don’t feel that I’ve had an ounce of erratic-ness in my recent driving. If you can get erratic out of the way, get it under control, that is great.
Q: Why is it you only seem to progress upward with no backward dips?
Hamilton: One day I’m going to have to really dissect it. There are so many elements to being a driver. It is crazy. To get your mind into the gear we have to get into, we arrive every week and jump in the car. And I look around to my engineers and I get the sense that they just think I just jump in and do the job. But it’s really a tricky process. There are the days before, the worries, the nervousness, the excitement, the exhilaration, the aggressiveness inside to not fail. There are a billion balls in the air. They are all stars, but which one do you pick?
This year has been magical. There have been so many things that I have altered. Small things that I have altered. I am not going to say what they were, but over the winter I thought I’d alter some small things. Which I do generally every year. But they have really had a big impact.
For the end of this year I already know there are some things I am going to change. It is when you start the training, the time you spend, how you balance things to get yourself ready. There are different ways you push and pull from the team. There are so many areas that I’ve been working on.
Working with (Mercedes team boss) Toto Wolff I’ve managed to build the best working environment for me here. I am pretty certain no other driver has a working environment like this — maybe (teammate) Valtteri (Bottas) because he shares the space. But no other driver has the support mechanism that I have here and that Toto has helped put in place. But it is about understanding each other, talking, and saying, ‘Toto this is what you need from me, but I am going to tell you this is how you can get it from me.’ These are things we build upon and put into place. It is about making adjustments in order to create that space.
Q: Toto Wolff described you as a differentiator. He said four things define a driver: talent, hard work, intellect and emotional intelligence. If a driver has all four of those, he wins. A driver can have three of those and be great but not necessarily be world champion. Is that a fair assessment?
Hamilton: Toto is very eloquent in how he puts things. I don’t know if I would have chosen those four things, but I can’t disagree with him because he looks at it from a different perspective than me. He watches from the back of the room how I engage and work. So I don’t really know how to answer the question, but this year definitely there are a lot of areas, probably more than four.