MONZA – Lewis Hamilton attributes his surge to the top of the Formula One drivers world championship to an increased level of “heart and passion” since winning the British Grand Prix in July.
The 32-year-old Briton, whose victory in Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix lifted him three points clear of Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari, has won three of the last four races to become leader for the first time this year.
As Ferrari retreated from their home race to lick their wounds after being outclassed by a Mercedes masterclass that saw Valtteri Bottas finish second, Hamilton admitted he felt he now has the momentum.
“To come through these last races – they’ve been real solid races – I think I’ve felt more heart and passion within myself,” said Hamilton, who claimed a record-breaking 69th career pole on Saturday and then his 59th win on Sunday.
“I’ve found more in the last three or four races. I think Silverstone was a real empowering weekend and from then, it’s sparked a forest fire within me – and that’s hopefully reflected in my driving and the way I’m working with my guys.
“To be leading, whilst it’s only a couple of points, I’m grateful for it. By no means do I feel comfortable, and I will apply myself the same that I have these past three or four races.
“Earlier on in the year, it was obviously 20 points gap, or whatever, between myself and him, so now I’m going to see if we can have that feeling for a while.”
He added that his success had come after a “real constant search and battle for perfection, which is what’s been needed to overhaul the Ferraris because they’ve been exceptional all year long”.
He added that he had felt recharged and ready after the European summer break in August.
“I timed it just perfectly where I came off and made sure I recharged the batteries, and that’s what they are, they’re fully charged and ready to go!
“It’s like an ERS pack. Towards the end of the season, you’re running on the low end of the battery pack, whereas I’m operating at the top end now and it’s a good feeling.
“Whilst I feel I always drive with my heart, my heart is the engine and the power and the force behind what I do… My mind is really like the rudder, and I feel like it’s really steering me in the right direction in terms of how I prepared.”
As Hamilton celebrated his and Mercedes’ supremacy by skateboarding in Monte Carlo, four-time champion Vettel attempted to put on a brave face after a disappointing result in front of a record 93 000 impassioned tifosi.
His boss, Ferrari chief executive Sergio Marchionne, described the performance gap between Mercedes and his team as “embarrassing”, acknowledging the pain felt when Daniel Ricciardo, who started 16th on the grid, overtook Kimi Raikkonen to take fourth place.
“Emotions run high and when you have a bad day you can’t hide it, so I can understand his feelings,” said Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff.
“For me, it looks like Ferrari have taken a step back this weekend. I think we were very solid, but they have not performed in the way everybody expected.”
Mercedes know that their glorious end to the European season may not signal they have truly regained the momentum and expect a Ferrari fightback in Singapore, the first of three upcoming races in Asia.
“To be leading the championship – whilst it is only a couple of points – I am grateful, but by no means do I feel comfortable,” added Hamilton, who is scheduled to take part in a tyres-testing day at Le Castellet in the south of France on Thursday.
“But I want to stay here…”