World champion shakedown: James Allison
Mercedes AMG F1’s technical director
How much effect has the halo had? “The biggest job was trying to make sure that it fitted nicely on the chassis, that the chassis was strong enough to take the loads and that we saved enough weight – that’s where the effort has been. The increased centre of gravity has an effect on lap time, but that’s the same for everybody.”
Last year was your first with Lewis Hamilton. What were your impressions? “He surprised me from the outset. At our first test together, he’d just finished a run during which he’d had quite a big moment. By way of saying ‘hello’ he asked whether I’d seen what happened. You generally coo a bit at drivers for being super-brave, but I didn’t want my first conversation with Lewis to be like that, so I chose what I thought was a well-calibrated middle ground and said, ‘Yeah, but the thing that always surprises me about you fuckers is that you come back the next lap and do it all over again.’ I thought that would be mildly funny, but I could see that Lewis didn’t receive it in the way it was meant. A bit later Toto Wolff came up and said, ‘Lewis mentioned that you were a bit rude to him…’
“I later sat down with Lewis in the factory canteen. I apologised, told him I never swear when I’m cross but that I did it because it mildly amuses me and that I’d tone it down in future. He laughed, told me not to worry and that I’d just caught him a bit off-guard.
“He then caught me off my guard by telling me how sorry he’d been to hear about my wife [Becky Allison succumbed to meningitis in 2016]. He added that from what people had told him, the sadness never leaves but over time things would become easier and I’d learn to live with that sadness. I absolutely wasn’t expecting this. We see the public face of Lewis – the Tweets, the fashion – but this was a mature, sensitive, confident conversation. He said he hoped I’d be lucky and find happiness again. I thanked him but mentioned that any such happiness would probably involve having to speak to a girl – and I was really crap at that. He laughed and said, ‘Well, maybe just don’t call them fuckers…’ That, I think, gives you a much better sense of what he’s like than anything I could tell you about his work ethic, his driving or his determination.”
How impressed were you by Valtteri Bottas? “I think all of us in the team are far more impressed with him than appears to be the perceived wisdom. He finished not too many points behind Sebastian Vettel – and without a DNF, which wasn’t of his making, he’d have been ahead. If you take away that DNF, he’d have been on average about two points a race worse off than Lewis – two points for which Valtteri would not excuse himself, but let’s remember who he’s up against. Lewis is one of the all-time greats – and for Valtteri things will only get better this year. I’m confident he’ll go from strength to strength.”