Lewis Hamilton has just returned from his longest break, from F1, in 10 years. Since his 2017 campaign ended at Abu Dhabi in November, he has been snowboarding in the USA (“It was icy in Colorado – too dangerous”), then more snowboarding in Japan (“We didn’t have any snow”), then surfing in Hawaii (“Not the greatest surfer yet, but it’s good for working out”).
He looks absurdly fit and healthy, but he smooths down the front of his race suit and admits that the aim is “to keep the same strength but lose some of the fat for the first race”. I look at him and wonder: what fat?
We’re at Silverstone, at the launch of the car that could allow him to match the five world titles won by Fangio and Michael Schumacher. To do it, he’ll have to beat Sebastian Vettel – another man chasing his fifth. But does this matter, does Lewis chase numbers?
“I saw something in the last few days about being up with Fangio and that is an exciting prospect, but honestly when I left Abu Dhabi and when I’m with my family, I don’t have a single thought about racing. It helps that I had no one reminding me that I’m a four-time champion – so I went back to reality.
“Then I went into the new year, started training, and you ask, ‘Why are you training? What are your goals?’ It’s not as simple as writing it down – you have to find out where you’ll find your determination and drive.”
He says he is better prepared for 2018 than ever, but admits that he needs to find ways of “getting through” the training. Listening to music helps, he says, but – as you would expect of a racing driver – he can’t sit still. Surfing, snowboarding, jogging, Lewis needs to keep moving.
Until last year, however, perhaps the only chink in Lewis’s armour was psychological – not physical. Dramas in his personal life seemed to affect his racing, and there were Grands Prix when he just didn’t seem to turn up. He’s had another drama in his personal life this winter, with a misguided Instagram post and subsequent winding down of his social media activity. Did this affect him?
“We had already planned to have a clean slate [on social media] at the beginning of this year – it just turned out it was an opportunistic [sic] time. I have been very open with my life for several years, and it’s always difficult to make a change because I like being open. But we are living in a strange time in the world, when things are magnified a lot more than previous years. It will continue to be part of my life, to connect with fans, but maybe I’ll be a bit more strategic in what I do and don’t show.”
How then does he handle the pressure of being in the spotlight? “For me, to get around a stressful scenario I go for a run. It helps me work out solutions. Trying to live my best life very day. We all handle different scenarios in different ways. Our journey is determined by how much you put into it.
“I put a lot of positive people around me. I don’t put people around me who suck my energy. I only have people around me who make my light brighter. You’ve got to remember that life is a challenge for all of us. We all come across hurdles. It’s not how you fall it’s how you stand up. We have Billy Monger here, and he is racing British F3 this year – so anything is possible.
“When I’m racing it’s easy. I put on the helmet, put on the blinkers and enter a different zone.”
What about mind games. If he feels threatened by another driver, does he then look away from ‘self’ and see if he can affect the performance of others? His reply is brusque, but satisfyingly so. “Honestly I don’t play mind games; I just drive faster….”
He admits that he “tries to veer off negativity” but his body language shifts when the discussion moves to the weight of the current F1 cars. Accommodating the new halo device has forced the rulemakers into increasing the minimum weight by 6kg (to 734kg) to compensate, but the actual impact of the device including the mountings is thought to be as high as 14kg – much of which is placed high-up, thus affecting the centre of gravity. When Hamilton won his first F1 world championship, in 2008, the cars weighed 605kg…
“Cars are getting heavier,” says Lewis, “and after braking zones, brakes are on the limit. I hope things don’t get heavier. There are parts about lighter cars I prefer – like they’re easier to manoeuvre in combat…”
Nice line, that. Say what you like about Lewis the man, but he’s always been a racer.