Perez fastest in close COTA fight: 2021 United States GP practice round-up
Perez ended Friday running fastest of all after Hamilton and Verstappen almost came to blows
After securing his fourth Formula 1 World Championship at the Mexican Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton spoke candidly about his victorious season, rivalries with Vettel and Verstappen, and what lies ahead
Mercedes has been incredible for the past five years and I’m so proud to be a part of it.
Honestly, it doesn’t feel real. Obviously, that’s not the kind of race that I wanted, when you’re 40 seconds behind or something. But you know, I never gave up and that’s really what’s important.
There are a lot of emotions. I would love to start by thanking my team.
Mercedes signed me when I was 13, alongside McLaren – I had exceptional years with McLaren. I had a very, very special time there, and will always have a special place in my heart. Meeting Ron Dennis when I was 10, telling him that one day I wanted to be a world champion in his car, and him giving me that opportunity. Wherever he is today I hope he knows how grateful I am for that. People thought it was a big risk, and gamble, but I had one hundred per cent belief in my heart that it was the right thing to do. Even if in the beginning it may have been difficult, I knew at some stage we would have this kind of success. It’s really weird how I had that.
And then just to see the team grow. It’s trickled down from the top, with great bosses, great board members who support the team one hundred per cent. The guys back at Brackley and Brixworth, those guys. I mean, when you go there and see what’s happening, see all these great creative minds working day and night to do something firstly, that they love, that they’ve worked for years, obviously going through school and university and then to see this beautiful piece of art come together in December and January. Being one of two people that get to go out and test drive it, is the greatest feeling in the world.
When I think about everything that’s gone on this year, the past two years, and everything that’s had to be put in place to produce the results we have today, there are over a thousand people who backed me up, who lift me up, who create the machine in which I’m able to exploit my talents, my abilities – and for that I’m just so grateful.
I was going back to when my dad put me in the boxing ring when I was young and this kid beat the crap out of me. My nose was bleeding and I didn’t want to go back in, and it felt very, very similar to Turn 3 today. I got the puncture, could have easily resorted to giving up, making mistakes, but I remembered that moment and I was like: ‘I’m not going to give up, I’m going to keep pushing. Even if I’m 40 seconds behind, I’m still going to give it everything, so that when I cross the line I can be proud of myself.’ And I definitely am.
It’s crazy to think that I’m continuing to stamp the Hamilton name in the history books. Beyond my time there will be kids that will know the name and that’s probably what I’m most proud of. I can’t even tell you what my dad did to help me get where I am today. No matter how many wins I get, no matter how successful I am, I can never pay that back, but I just try and grab it with both hands.
I want number five now. I’m going to enjoy number four but I just take one step at a time. It’s really about embracing firstly what you love, the people that you work with, your family. It’s really about not listening to people who try to tell you what to do. It’s about you finding your centre and your core. Because we’re all different and we’re all unique, we’re all bright stars.
And yeah, this week I’ve just been reminiscing a lot about where I came from. Growing up in Stevenage, dreaming of one day being in F1, where I am now, is way beyond my imagination.
I hope my fourth title win, as a world champion from Stevenage, is a testament to show that you really can get somewhere from nowhere. I hope one day I’m able to help find the next me because they’re out there somewhere.
I did everything I could. I had a good start. I don’t really know what happened at Turn 3, but I gave Vettel plenty of room. I tried my hardest to come back. I was 40sec behind today and I don’t know how it looked from the outside, but it didn’t feel great. I knew that I couldn’t win the race, clearly, but I thought ‘you know what, I’m going to have the best race I can possibly have from wherever I am’.
I was, of course, surprised to be hit. And yeah, I left a lot of room, so I wonder why the dude behind touched me – we’re great drivers; he’s a four-time World Champion, it’s quite easy not to hit each other – but in the midst of things it can also be quite easy to touch. So, I don’t really care and I don’t feel like analysing it.
It took forever to catch one guy, and then eventually get past but I enjoyed every battle. I tried to use all my skill. I don’t think I was too aggressive: I didn’t lock-up, I didn’t make any mistakes and that is something I’m really happy with – because naturally under the pressure, I could have done too much or too little.
It was a great race as a spectacle but it was a very, very challenging race because we’re very high up so we’ve got maximum downforce, very small drag, and overtaking is very difficult.
I could see the TV screens, I could see where I was and, damn, it sucked being 12th. It took forever to get 11th and I was seeing [Vettel’s position]. He was not as unfortunate as I was to get a puncture and be 40 seconds behind, he was at least able to remain in the fight so he had a much better opportunity and obviously drove fantastically well in the race after Turn 3.
I think it was great to have two teams fighting today. It’s not been the easiest weekend. You can see through practice, the top six all within a tenth. I think that’s great. We need more of that. It pushes us all more to the limit, it pushes the cars more to the limit and that’s ultimately what has got us excited for the sport.
This track, unfortunately, is the hardest track to overtake. There are things that come into that: your brakes are on fire so you have to back off and the cars are over temperature because there’s not enough cooling. It’s almost impossible to follow another car; we almost need special wings or tyres for this race because a one-stop race is boring, so I hope they make some changes.
I could see Vettel climbing and I’m thinking, ‘Jeez, I know he has to finish second, I knew that Max was 70 seconds up the road, so I don’t know’. I just tried to keep a gauge of what’s happening up ahead. I thought, ‘do I have to get eighth to win it?’ But all I could think of was trying to get up as high as I could. I’d look back at the laps and think ‘maybe I could have pushed a little harder here and there’ but at the time my soft tyre had to go to the end, and it wasn’t feeling good, so I was just trying to look after it initially which is why I didn’t have great pace.
Then we had the pitstop and I went in 26 seconds behind, came out 30 seconds behind and I’m like ‘what the hell?’ This is one of those things that are sent to test me.
It’s always easy to take the easy route, just back off, turn the engine down, not push, hope for the best. But I kept racing and that’s what I live for. That’s what happened I started out karting when I had a crap go-kart. I started last and I made my way through, and that’s what I tried to do today.
I’ve enjoyed racing against Sebastian and to race against a four-time World Champion, and even today, to have the battle with Fernando, I was like ‘this is one tough mofo’. Back and forth, back and forth, I’m like ‘it’s Formula 1. Just wait ‘til this guy gets a good engine,’ because the car was great through the other sections of the track.
I really hope for McLaren, which has a special place in my heart. I really hope next year is a better year for them. I hope they have a stronger engine, a stronger car. Fernando’s a tough cookie – I enjoyed the little battle I had with him and I hope we get to have many more like that.
There’s that famous saying, in the Art of War: ‘Keep your friends close and your enemies closer’.
I watch Sebastian, I know what he’s achieved in the past years, I know how consistent he’s been, I know where his strengths and weaknesses are. I know where the strengths and weaknesses of his car are, which I think is very important.
It’s kind of cool to be in this battle with Sebastian. He got 50 poles yesterday and I think that I don’t want to give him any more poles because then he gets closer to me. That’s inspiration to keep pushing it. Then it’s the same with wins and the same with championships. I saw him sign for another three years with Ferrari and I’m like, ‘Ferrari is not going to like me for the next few years’.
But it’s OK because we’re going to make it as hard as it can possibly be for them to win championships; I really am looking forward to that battle with them.
Red Bull has been great today too. Big congratulations to Max, he’s really the brightest young star that we’ve seen for some time and I was hoping today to have a bit of a battle with him but it wasn’t meant to be. But there will be many more to come and I hope that in his early era that I can be a good force and a good battle for him. I think Max is an exceptional driver.
He drove fantastically and to see his race craft at the start of the race was awesome. I was looking forward to having a battle with him and it is great to see Red Bull up there again. I hope they have a better engine next year and they are more in the fight. I think it would be great for the sport.
You have a potential world champion in Max and he is only going to get stronger with age because he has a lot of raw talent. He has a long way to go but these wins are only adding to his great potential and I am looking forward to battling with that. Going down that straight three-abreast with two of the greatest drivers I have come across was…Oh my god.
What’s a shame is that F1 cars, in particular here, make overtaking so difficult. There’s got to be some way of creating that battle without creating a deficit in engine power or something. There’s got to be some other way to have more fight back.
I hope everyone enjoyed this year and some of the great battles we’ve all had; I’m not going to try and make even more controversy next year. I hope that we just give you more raw racing, you know? That’s what the motor sport needs, that’s what we’re struggling towards.
I definitely think this has been the most difficult, but they have all been different in their own way. 2008 was tough, ‘07 was difficult. The following years have just been different.
Of course, if you look back to 2015, consistency was good and that championship came in a different way. I felt challenged on a personal level – but I think this year is a championship which I’ve been hoping for. This year’s championship has been a little bit like 2008, where you’re fighting another team – fighting this historic team which Michael Schumacher raced for and won championships with.
Red’s my favourite colour so it’s such a beautiful car to see on the track – but to fight Ferrari with a silver sword – the master sword – I’m really proud of that
We all love that challenge. Every single individual in the team has really raised their game. You go to the factory and think, ‘why are you still here at 7pm or 8pm?’ Sometimes it’s later. They say, ‘We’ve got a championship to win’. It hasn’t come so easy.
That’s how every championship needs to be, and I hope there are more championships like this one where we have this tough battle. Reliability is always a challenge, and it’s been exceptional, thanks to the team. But fighting the other teams is what we want to see. I think it’s what F1 wants to see.
The car has obviously got great qualities but generally, the philosophy of how the car has been designed has remained. Over the years it’s got some of the same traits of the previous years but being this year, with bigger tyres and a longer wheelbase, some of the issues have been exaggerated.
The reason I don’t name my car, is because it’s not the same car you’re driving throughout the year. We have four, five or six chassis so it keeps changing, so you would have to have four or five different names and that’s a pain in the backside.
So I don’t name the car. But you still obviously have a close connection with the car that you’re in that keeps you safe.
It’s been a great year because we’ve really sat down for these debriefs, like after Malaysia, when we sat down and had the longest debrief with the guys. What’s amazing is to have guys who really listen to every single thing – feedback – you give back about the car. They just want more information. These engineers, they love that stuff: the more numbers, the more information, the better. So Valtteri and I have really been working hard to give the best feedback.
These guys come from Harvard and Cambridge and Oxford and they’re on another level to us drivers, so to be able to convey what you’re feeling is not the easiest. But I’m proud of the car’s flaws because she’s not been perfect.
Whilst people have written that we’ve had the best car, I don’t believe we’ve had the best car. I think we’ve been the best team, we’ve done the best job, but there have been times when we’ve not had the best car.
At times when we’ve struggled, like at Singapore for example, we’ve come out with more than we had hoped for. And really, that’s what it’s been about.
I think next year – hopefully it’s not too late – but I hope we will improve on some of the fundamental issues we have on this year’s car though others will come out of the woodwork.
I’ve had the same engineers for some time. Bono (Pete Bonnington) has been with me from the beginning and his and their commitment [shows]. You don’t get to see what happens back in the office but they’re constantly analysing how to give the driver the best package.
Do you know how many pieces there are for that car? There are so many components.
They’re faultless in what they do. I have so much respect for that because I’ve taken things apart and put them back the wrong way. I’m sure some of you guys have. So it’s really exceptional to see people talented like that doing great things. And then when you get in the car, you know that you’ve got that belief in you and you deliver as they deliver. It’s the greatest feeling.
Each car is different. When I got to F1 in 2006 – I don’t know what chassis that was, the MP4/22, something like that – it was a different car.
At the time I thought it was the most physically demanding thing that I had ever come across. Your body then becomes accustomed to it. I think in 2014 and ’15, the car was still good but today’s is the best all-round car and in terms of its size It looks a lot like the olden days.
When you watch the old legendary cars go round today the cool things you notice are the sound and the big tyres that they have. I think this, for me, is definitely the best car I’ve driven but I’ve had the privilege of driving different cars.
I drove Ayrton’s car from 1989, which is cool because they had the stick shift. I really wish we had that here. Imagine that battle I had with Fernando but with me having to take my hand off the steering wheel. That would have been awesome, but it’s not meant to be in this world of technology.
I don’t ever really compare myself to Ayrton. I think it’s very hard to compare oneself to previous eras, you know? The cars are always different. What I would say is that ultimately us racing drivers, what we’re great at is getting in a car and exploiting its strengths and weaknesses and putting it to the limit.
All the drivers back to Fangio, no matter what vehicle you put them in, whether it’s a car, jet ski, or whatever, we will take it to the limit because we have this certain sense of awareness and higher limits than others, I guess. I do feel very proud to be in and amongst those legendary drivers and we’re in a different era where safety is so much further ahead but technology also is too.
The challenge Ayrton would have faced in his time would be a lot different today, mentally. Maybe it’s less physically challenging now, but there are so many electronics that you have to control. It’s not one era that is more difficult than another – they’re just unique in their own way.
I really do think that Ayrton would have continued to win more if he was fortunate enough to have more life to live. That bright life of his was cut short. I’ve always said it, since I got the first championship; I like the idea that I’m carrying a baton.
He inspired me as a kid. I arrived at home on the weekend and he’d be the one I would be looking out for. And even when he was gone, I still came back and watched his videos like he was racing just yesterday
We spoke a few weeks ago back at the factory and said that we would be sitting down. It is quite an easy process for us. We already have something great in place and it is really just about extending it and enhancing it and working on what more I can do for them and vice versa.
Now all the pressure is off, we can enjoy the next couple of races. I think it is important we continue to focus just as we have and race just as we have.
I’ll continue to race while I love it. As I’ve said, I’ve enjoyed it this year more than ever. I do think: ‘it would be so nice at some stage just to live in one place, do a lot more socialising, walk your dogs every day or surf,’ whatever it is, but staying in one place for a period of time. I can’t come back to F1, so there’s going to be a point at which I’ve had enough.
I want to go out on top so that’s my goal. Obviously each year, I could do the easy thing like Nico [Rosberg] did, which is just stop and retreat with these four titles, but I think there’s more in me. I think there’s more to come, more of a challenge as there are harder times ahead and I like that, I love that. It’s challenging.
Qualifying has been great, it’s been a step forward this year in terms of consistency. My starts were very strong too. I just try and concentrate on being the most all-round guy I can possibly be. I’m a bit older now, I’ve trained differently this year.
Contrary to what people would assume, you need a trainer. I’ve enjoyed the challenge of not having a trainer and doing it myself and motivating myself. it’s hard. I’ve gone for a run and a few metres down the road I’ve thought to myself ‘forget that, I’m going home’. When I was with my trainer, I would go all the way. Having to find that within myself is what I’ve really enjoyed.
I’ve taken certain things on and they’ve gone well. It doesn’t mean it will be exactly like that next year, and now I’ve got to write down the pros and cons of this year and see how I can improve for next year. I want to be better next year. The challenge is going to be even bigger from Ferrari and Red Bull next year. Formula 1 doesn’t sleep. It doesn’t stand still.
There is always someone waiting to take my position. I’ve got Max sitting there waiting to take it. I’ve got to raise the game another level in order to stay ahead of him and that motivates me. There’s my motivation already for next year.
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