Hamilton excited about Silverstone
This weekend’s British Grand Prix will be a new experience for Lewis Hamilton as he appears in front of his home fans in the colors of Mercedes for the first time.
Those who criticized his decision to abandon McLaren for Mercedes have been given food for thought by the respective performances of the two teams this year. Hamilton certainly started the Formula One season with a bang, outqualifying teammate Nico Rosberg in the first three races, including a memorable pole position in China.
Hamilton clearly has a fast car in the W04, but it has not proven consistent on race days. More important, Hamilton has not felt comfortable enough to be able to consistently extract the maximum performance from it.
Both Mercedes drivers have been frustrated by the W04’s inability to maintain its one-lap, pace-setting form over a race distance, but it was Rosberg who was on top in Monaco, the one race thus far where Mercedes has been able to turn pole into victory. Hamilton had the upper hand again in Montreal, but he wasn’t entirely happy to have to cede second place to Fernando Alonso as, once again, Mercedes struggled more than others on the tires.
Hamilton already has earned a trio of third places with Mercedes this season, but he insists that he’s not felt at one with the car since the start of the year. Obviously, he’s had to adapt to many different things at his new home, but more specifically it’s the feel of the brakes that has hampered him.
“It’s difficult to really explain it,” Hamilton says. “When I was at McLaren, I had obviously been there for a long, long time. I had 100 percent confidence in the car. I’ve been struggling with that; it means you can’t brake late enough. I’ve had it all season so far; it’s just been the same, it’s not got better. A wet track helps, because you don’t have to be so aggressive on the brakes.
“When you’re braking, it’s all about feel through your foot, through your boot. It’s all about the stiffness of the pedals. It’s all about the modulation. It’s all about the retardation of the brakes. It’s the reaction of the car when you hit the brakes.
“There are so many different things that give you confidence. What I had before, we worked on it a long time. And we got it right, and it was the same for six years. It’s a little bit different here, and we’re working on it.”
Hamilton admits that the issue has come as a surprise to him. “I’ve never in my life had brake problems, since I was 5 years old, when I first drove a kart," he says. "I never had a brake issue or lack of confidence on the brakes. It’s the first time I’ve had that experience. It definitely catches you a little bit off guard. I don’t feel comfortable at the moment. When I do, you’ll know.”
The other challenge Hamilton has faced this year is the one provided by Rosberg, his former karting teammate and F3 rival. Although Hamilton had the upper hand initially in qualifying, Rosberg was the victim of circumstances on occasion. The German bounced back with a great run of three poles in Bahrain, Spain and Monaco. Hamilton, however, says he’s used to stiff competition.
“It’s good to see Nico so competitive. It’s good for him,” Hamilton says. “He’s worked very hard to get where he is. He’s doing a fantastic job at the moment. I just need to do a better job.
“I’ve been very fortunate to have lots of experiences in the past. Obviously when I was with Fernando (Alonso), with Jenson (Button), with Heikki (Kovalainen), we’ve had plenty of times when I was outqualified. It doesn’t have any effect at all or make me doubt my abilities, or anything like that. I’ve just got to work harder.”
Hamilton has a good record at Silverstone. He scored a memorable victory in his championship year of 2008, and he’s been on the podium on two other occasions. He’s also had bad days in front of the home crowd, and he managed only an eighth place last year.
So what of his hopes for this weekend? It’s a tougher track on tires, but it also should play to the strengths of the W04.
“I hope by the time I get to Silverstone, I’ll have got my act together,” he says. “And the car will be competitive, for sure. I’ve generally struggled in Silverstone for the last four years or so, but I think this car will go really well there. So I’m looking forward to that. It’s just the characteristics of the car.
“It was very good in Barcelona in the high-speed corners. I anticipate it will be the same through the high-speed corners in Silverstone. Plus, we’ve got some things in the pipeline that are coming for Silverstone, which should make the car even quicker.
“There’s a great mood back at the factory and a great mood within the team. The guys are just focused; they want to win more. It’s as simple as that.”
Meanwhile, Hamilton is hoping to put on a good show for his loyal supporters this weekend.
“It’s really the fans that make it special,” Hamilton says. “The turnout that we have every year is incredible. And I really hope it’s the same this year. You can never get used to it, especially when you grew up in a tiny place like Stevenage.
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“You never thought in a million years that you’d have one person following you and supporting you, so it’s incredible when you see thousands turn up and they have all the flags flying for you with Hamilton on them. It makes me very proud to represent the country.
“When I won [in 2008] and it was raining, they stayed and didn’t go home, and they stick it out with you. I like to carry my fans with me through the year; that’s why I try to communicate with them as much as possible, because it means a huge amount, the support they give me.
“Every time we go back to the British GP, it’s special, but it doesn’t feel particularly different because I’m in a different team. I’m sure the fans are not too happy that they have to get new kit, T-shirts and stuff. But so far, I’ve had no complaints. People have been very supportive, and it’s still a team based in the UK.”