Rejuvenated Lewis Hamilton optimistic as thoughts turn to Monaco – but remains wary of Red Bull threat

 May 14, 2018

Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen
Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen on the podium in Barcelona / Photo: AFP/Getty Images


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After extending his lead in the world championship to 17 points following victory in the Spanish Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton now has eyes on victory on the streets of Monte Carlo.

“Anyone who wins wants to do it that way,”

Lewis Hamilton said here on Sunday evening after dominating the Spanish Grand Prix to take the 64th success of his career from his 74th pole position, and extending his lead in the world championship to 17 points over Sebastian Vettel. As we said at the time, inheriting the win last time out from Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas really hurt a true racer’s pride.

Yet he encapsulated the challenge that every driver and team face this year, when he said he still wasn’t really sure why his Mercedes W09 had turned from a but if a tearaway and into a lady almost overnight. Any more than Vettel really knew why his Ferrari was struggling for the first time this year.

A new track surface and thinner-tread Pirelli tyres specifically for here, Paul Ricard and Silverstone (to avoid excessive heat build-up) were most likely red herrings, and as usual it all came down to how well you got your tyres working within their limited operating temperature range. Consider how difficult it must be, when that can be as narrow as four degrees, meaning that if you are under or over such a narrow temperature window, you are going to be so far out of the ballpark that you finish 27.5s behind, as Vettel did on Sunday.

“With the supersoft tyre, in particular,” Mercedes’ chief strategist James Vowles said, “it can literally be like trying to thread a needle.”

“I haven’t had synergy like I had today all season,” Hamilton admitted after his crucial, confidence-restoring victory. “I was uncomfortable in the car and didn’t have the confidence in the balance I needed to attack and lean on the car. It was a nervous, scrappy car throughout qualifying, better than before but still not great. But today we had the right wing setting for the race and the car was nice to drive. I had much more confidence in it and could see my times improving. Plus I was able to look after my tyres much better.

“People probably thought I was cruising, that it was an easy race, but it wasn’t. I was pushing every lap, using it as a test bench to understand what I liked about the balance, squeezing everything more so that I could be very particular and point out to my engineers what I want from it, what I need them to make better so I can be faster. It’s a good thing I’m a world champion because the team listen, and they know you’re not talking gibberish. It’s an amazing process; they listen, they go away and think, then come back and it improves.”

But such is the trickiness of getting exactly the right setup with the current tyres and of finding that sweet spot time and again, that he is optimistic but cautious about what might happen next time out in Monaco, where Mercedes have struggled in recent years.

“I’m not sure what to expect,” he admitted. “But the last sector here is slow and like Monaco, and Red Bull were very quick there, so I expect them to be fast in Monaco, too.”

It’s a message even Ferrari have just learned: on the current Pirellis, nobody can be sure what to expect. It’s something that skews the racing, but also the thing that is probably making the 2018 season so unpredictable.

“It’s the greatest feeling to come here and have that kind of perfection,” he added, of his win. “You could probably see the energy in me when I got out of the car. I was pretty fresh after that, and that was another positive.

“It’s difficult to know where that race fits in. Not every win feels that great. But this was my 64th, and it still feels like the first one did. It’s been a unique journey to this and it’s encouraging for me that I still feel that happiness and uplift. I’ll sleep like a baby knowing that I didn’t leave anything on the table, and that’s the greatest feeling.”

Hamilton’s boss Toto Wolff stressed yet again that he doesn’t want to lose him, as their contract talks continue. But Hamilton was as relaxed as he has been all season, talking about the talks.

“All the Mercedes bosses were here, and nobody in the hierarchy of the team has any concerns. We are really not far away in our talks, and the signing will happen in the near future.”

On Sunday’s showing, nobody would expect anything else, for either party.

Originally published at The Independent

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