MELBOURNE – A refreshed and hungry Lewis Hamilton has declared he’s ready to take the new Formula One season by the scruff of the neck – which is bad news for his long-suffering rivals.
The Mercedes driver is the man they all have to beat again, but at 33, it seems that Hamilton, the four-time world champion and now a veteran of the sport, wants to speed up rather than slow down.
Hamilton, who has Juan Manuel Fangio’s five F1 titles in his sights, gave a glimpse into his mindset when he revealed that even after a record 72 pole positions, he feels he’s never driven the perfect lap.
“I have never done the perfect lap, ever,” he said, according to British broadcaster Sky Sports. “The perfect lap? No, and that is what is so great about this sport: you never get perfect.”
Hamilton added: “You get close, maybe. But imagine if in those 30 000-odd laps, I did 1 000 or 10 000 perfect laps. That would really be boring.
“If you played the perfect game time and time again, you would lose motivation because it is easy. You always have to move on to something more difficult.
“But there is no other class better than Formula 1 so if I was to perfect it, it would suck.”
Formula One’s only black driver comes from humble roots in Britain’s Stevenage, a town outside London, and appears to thrive on adversity.
Hamilton, who has adopted “Still I Rise”, the title of a Maya Angelou poem, as his personal motto, hit a bump in the road when he was criticised for mocking his nephew for wearing a dress, prompting him to withdraw from social media and delete years of posts.
But after his self-imposed silence Hamilton resumed posting in January, writing bullishly on Instagram: “I will never stop, I have no finish line.”
Worryingly for Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and the Red Bull drivers, Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, Hamilton also has the benefit of what looks like an improved Mercedes this season as sets out to retain his world championship.
Technical chief James Allison says the Mercedes W09 would “blow away” last year’s model, and the car showed no obvious weaknesses as it completed more laps than any other during pre-season testing.
Former Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg, the only man to deny Hamilton a sweep of the last four F1 titles, said the other drivers needed to make the most of the Briton’s moments of inconsistency.
“He has these periods when he is just not on it... you have to make the most of it, absolutely, and Sebastian did that pretty well last year,” the 2016 champion said, according to Sky.
“When Lewis has his good weekends, he is almost unbeatable, he is unbelievably fast and maybe the best guy out there.
“The only way to beat Lewis is to be 100 percent with everything, do the perfect season. Otherwise there is no chance.”
At last year’s season-opener, Hamilton finished second behind Vettel, and it wasn’t until after the mid-season break that he hit his stride, turning a 14-point deficit into a title victory by 46 points.
This year, the 62-time grand prix-winner seems to have travelled to Melbourne fully focused on the job at hand: securing world title number five.
He told ESPN: “That hunger that I had when I was eight years old; when the teachers said that I was never going to amount to nothing; when the other racing drivers’ dads said I was never going to amount to nothing; when the kids shouted abuse at the race track to me and my family.
“That still powers me on through the races.”