Sunday 20 October 2019

Hamilton focused on closing gap to Schumacher record

World champions Lewis Hamilton beaten by his Mercedes team-mate at the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne. Photo: Edgar Su/Reuters
World champions Lewis Hamilton beaten by his Mercedes team-mate at the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne. Photo: Edgar Su/Reuters

Oliver Brown

Lewis Hamilton has swept into Melbourne looking every inch like Formula One's first e47m-a-year man. It is not just the extra diamond earrings, or the bulked-up frame borne of revised driver weight limits, but his seamless surge back to the top of the time sheets.

Just when many in the paddock had dared to put money on red, predicting that a revived Ferrari would set a standard even a five-time world champion might struggle to emulate, Hamilton left his pursuers for dust. Once again, for a potentially record-equalling sixth straight season, the car in front is a Mercedes.

Making a rare appearance, Hamilton senior, Anthony, was in the garage to watch the show. Understandably, he could hardly stop grinning.

Father and son had grown apart for many years, with Lewis tiring of Anthony's attempts to combine the roles of parent and full-time manager, but there has since been a full reconciliation.

Upon sealing title number five in Mexico, Hamilton's first remarks were to thank "my dad, who truly believed we had it". As he set out here at Albert Park in search of his sixth, he put on a masterclass under the proudest paternal supervision.

From his first practice lap, the adrenalin coursed through him. Hamilton (pictured) has spent a fair slice of his winter break surfing in California and skydiving in Qatar, and he was none the worse for those extreme diversions.

Deal

Indeed, it is a feature of his deal with Mercedes that the more glory he collects, the more freedom he receives to arrange his extravagant life however he sees fit. While Hamilton's off-track antics might give other team principals a fit of the vapours, Toto Wolff, Mercedes' chief executive, sees no reason to rein him in.

"Last year I couldn't get hold of him or my chief strategist, until one of the race engineers found out they were racing motorbikes in Jerez," Wolff said. "They were a bit apologetic, but Lewis is not an 18 or 19-year-old man any more. He knows exactly what works for him and what doesn't.

"All these activities, in my experience, are not negative distractions, but things he enjoys doing. We mustn't be judgmental. Some people go on meditation seminars to India. Others go skydiving. Every time Lewis is able to decompress from racing, he comes back stronger."

Seldom has Hamilton appeared so battle-ready. At 34, he argues that staying in peak conditioning is harder than ever. But one could scarcely detect signs of struggle on his return, as Mercedes established a clear early advantage over both Ferrari and Red Bull.

Hamilton knows he has a chance to cement himself as F1's greatest of all time, by catching Michael Schumacher's benchmarks of seven championships or 91 race victories - he is second, on 73 - and it is one he seems hell-bent on grasping.

In theory, the one roadblock is the restored challenge of Ferrari. The Italians' performance during winter testing, where they comfortably outstripped the field, suggested they had turned a corner under the aegis of Mattia Binotto, the highly-rated technical director promoted to replace Maurizio Arrivabene, an out-of-his-depth marketing man. But Mercedes have served notice in Australia that they are not ceding their crown easily.

Irish Independent

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