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Hamilton interview: New F1 deal on despite fresh ‘kick’ over 2021 title loss

Lewis Hamilton’s patience and love of Formula 1 has been tested like never before over the past 12 months.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG

Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

But despite the lows of last year’s Abu Dhabi controversy, the competitive struggles with Mercedes this season, and renewed angst caused by Red Bull’s cost cap overspend, the seven-time champion is clear that his passion for racing has not cooled.

In fact, despite having many good reasons to walk away from F1 and go pursue interests he has elsewhere, the desire to stick with his current team is stronger than ever.

There is no ‘if’ about a contract extension with Mercedes beyond the end of 2023. It’s only a question of when.

“We are going to do another deal,” he tells selected media, including Autosport, in an interview at last weekend’s United States Grand Prix.

“We're going to sit down and we're going to discuss it in these next couple of months, I would say. 

“My goal is to continue to be with Mercedes. I've been with Mercedes since I was 13. And it really is my family: Mercedes-Benz is my family.

“They've stuck with me through thick and thin. They stuck with me through being expelled at school. They stuck with me through everything that was going on through 2020. They've stuck with me through my mistakes, and shit that's been in the press; they've stuck with me through the ups and downs.

“I really believe in this brand. I believe in the people that are within the organisation. And I want to be the best teammate I can be to them, because I think we can make the brand even better, more accessible, even stronger than it is. And I think I can be an integral part of that.”

Abu Dhabi fallout

While Hamilton is enthusiastic about his future with Mercedes in F1, it’s fair to say that the turbulence he has endured since that controversial safety car restart in Abu Dhabi last year has not been easy to navigate through.

Reflecting on his emotions in the wake of Abu Dhabi, as he disconnected from the public spotlight, he plays down talk that he came close to walking away.

“[It] feels like years ago,” he said. “I mean, it was definitely spirit-breaking, or soul-crushing, whatever you want to call it. Was I ever truly not going to come back? I am not one to give up like that, really.”

However, while quitting was never on the table, that’s not to say that the pain of the Abu Dhabi loss – and especially the circumstances of the FIA bending its own rules – did not cut deep.

“What really was breaking was to just believe that the sport would do something like that, that that would happen in the sport, given that there are so many people who you rely on,” he said.

“You expect that the job would be done right. And an outcome of a world championship, which so many people have worked so hard for, would come out through a wrong decision from somebody, you know?

“That was probably the only thing. It wasn’t for my lack of love for working with my team or racing cars, it was literally that...if you can lose a championship through wrongdoing within an organisation, that was the thing that I wondered [about].

“But I spent time with my family and that was really the best part of the healing really. I just gave all of my time to the kids, building snowmen and just being present with them.

“That enabled me to really recover, really bounce back. If I wasn’t with them, I would have been stuck in a hole.”

Asked if he felt the decisions made by F1 race director Michael Masi in Abu Dhabi were deliberate to try to stop him winning an eighth crown, Hamilton responds: “I don’t know. It feels so long ago now.

“I think it was just bad decision-making. I’m sure there is ego involved and then there are also the moving parts. There’s people speaking into his ear. I don’t feel like it was particularly targeted.”

Cost cap kick

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12, Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16B

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12, Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16B

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

While the Abu Dhabi controversy still remains a sensitive topic within F1, and Mercedes boss Toto Wolff admitted that he still thinks about the events every single day, Hamilton has deliberately tried to draw a line under it.

“I’ve moved on from it. I refuse to live in the past. I have already experienced that in 2007 and, as a youngster, that definitely kept me up at nights and it was just negative.

“When you hold on to some negativity, when you hold on to hate or whatever it is, it is just holding you back.

“I’m going up. And I am going forwards, regardless of what’s happened in the past. I chose not to dwell on it. There is nothing I can do about back then. I gave everything. Like, I gave everything, and I sacrificed.

“But I am willing to do it again. So that’s what I’m trying to work towards.”

But even Hamilton’s mindset in trying to erase the negativity of Abu Dhabi has been tested recently when it emerged that Red Bull had been found guilty by the FIA of overspending during its 2021 campaign.

Having himself spoken in public recently about the impact extra development money for Mercedes would have had on the title battle, it is clear that the ghosts of 2021 may never go away completely.

“Definitely when you heard going into Singapore about this cost [cap] thing that, for sure, brings up a little bit of emotion,” he admits.

“Because you kind of buried it and moved on and then it comes back up, and then it's like another bit of a kick. And, yeah, that just bought it all kind of fresh again. So then just getting back into the phase of just suppressing it and moving forwards.”

Where the matter goes now is now something for the FIA to decide, but even if there were the unlikely scenario of Red Bull and Max Verstappen losing championship points and the 2021 title because of the cost cap issue, Hamilton says that would bring him zero satisfaction.

“No, because the damage is done,” he said. “I have my feeling within of what we did as a team, how we achieved it and what we really truly achieved, and I can keep that to myself within me. We gave it our all and we did it the right way, and I am proud of that.”

Mercedes bouncing woes

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W13

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W13

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

What has also perhaps made the Abu Dhabi controversy so much harder to forget is that Hamilton and Mercedes have not simply been able to dust themselves off and keep battling for the next title.

The 2022 W13 car has proven to be a difficult car. It took Mercedes too long to understand its problems and, against the backdrop of the cost cap era in F1, an in-season recovery has proved to be too much to deliver.

It has meant a campaign unlike any other they have experienced together. And while there have been positives to take from the learning experience, it has certainly not been entirely fun to live through.

Hamilton says the realisation back in winter testing that things had not gone right was especially tough on everyone at Brackley.

“I wouldn’t say it’s been perfect for anyone,” he explained. “I’m sure Toto would tell you it’s not been perfect for him.

“We sat in February and we were all upbeat. They were all telling us we were going to have a massive quick car, and I’m sure everyone who was working on it was so hyped with all the hard work they put in through the winter.

“It’s such a gruelling time for everyone in the team, that’s when they really crunch and put in the crazy hours. In normal life you expect that period to be a more relaxed time for people.

“But to then find out the damn thing doesn’t work, and we’ve got bouncing, that was hard for everybody. Everyone was really struggling, I think.

“And we all went through our own process of how to deal with it. But I think surprisingly it’s been a really powerful transformational time for us all. We’ve got stronger and tighter as a team.”

But how tough was the mental readjustment for Hamilton himself?

“I think, from the initial phase, at the beginning, it didn’t feel too difficult,” he reflects.

“But definitely it started to wear down on you because you’re in the hope that you’re going to get back there and we didn’t for a while.

“Then, all of a sudden, we start having those races where we get into second and then the next race it’s [not]. The car is one weekend good, then it’s one, two, three, four not good, then it pops up. And you don’t know. 

“You do all the work in the simulator and the simulator’s telling you something different to what you get at the track. Just a confusing overall year of emotions.

“You think, the car feels quite good this weekend or the engineers say ‘ok we’ve got an upgrade that’s worth three tenths' and you get there and it’s a tenth slower.

“And you’re ‘oh shoot’. I think I’ve learned just not to get my hopes up with anything. It’s better to kind of under-expect and, if it’s just as good it’s just as good, and if it’s better, it’s better. In terms of preparation, I think we’re better.”

In how he has responded himself to the challenge of not being out there battling for the win every weekend, Hamilton thinks he has handled things better than he did in the past when things did not go right.

“There’s always value, there’s always things to take from the learnings,” he says about the year. “It’s not like I’ve never experienced a season like this. I would say more… I would definitely think I’ve been better than I was in the other times I’ve had years like this.

“Within the team, within the messaging, within geeing people up. I think I’ve been a better teammate to my colleagues than I have ever before. And I think outside, in my outside life, I think I’ve had an even better balance than I’ve had in the past. I think it’s been OK.”

Looking to the future

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes-AMG, with Toto Wolff, Team Principal and CEO, Mercedes AMG

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes-AMG, with Toto Wolff, Team Principal and CEO, Mercedes AMG

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

What has never been in doubt though is Hamilton’s desire to get back to the front. This is still at the top of his to-do list rather than going off to pursue something else.

“In terms of my plans for the future… each year, at the end of the year, you sit there and you're looking over whatever view you have, and you're sitting trying to figure out,” he says.

“I don't know how it is for you guys, but I'm trying to, like, analyse my year and analyse my next three to five year plan. It's difficult to do ten. 

“But where do I see myself? What are the things I want to do? What are my goals? And things are being added. And I'm adding in lots of business things. I have a lot of business going on. I have a lot of successful, really positive things that have lots of opportunity for success outside.

“But I want to keep racing. I love what I do. I've been doing it for 30 years, and I don't feel that I should have to stop.

“I think I'm currently still earning my keep, I would say. I want to do better, still. But I am planning to be here longer.”

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