Lewis Hamilton’s fifth FIA Formula One world title win last year gained him entry to an incredibly exclusive club. And although there have been 16 multiple world champions in the sport’s history, only two other drivers have five to their name.
Now, with only four weeks to go until the start of the 2019 season, Mercedes, with Hamilton in the driver’s seat, are chasing a sixth successive championship double, and completing the first laps with their 2019 challenger at Silverstone. As the reigning world champion clambered into the Mercedes-AMG F1 W10 EQ Power+ for the first time, he revealed that the preseason excitement never wanes.
“The buzz really starts at the beginning of the year when you see the car coming together. And then you get to the shakedown and you get into the car – it just never gets old,” Hamilton said. “It feels like a real privilege – so many people have worked together to form that car, and you know how much hard work has gone into it.
“Driving the new car is like meeting someone new for the first time – you want to get to know them the best way as quick as possible as you embark on a journey together.”
Credit Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport
Designing a contender
Work on the Mercedes W10 started some 16 months ago, when the team were still fighting for their fourth championship title. According to the most recently filed financial statements, the team boosted spending on their Formula One engine manufacturing operation by 44.3% in 2017 to a record £183.1m.
Compared with its predecessor, the Mercedes W10 has changed substantially, largely driven by the significant additions to this year’s technical regulations – including aerodynamic rules aimed at improving overtaking. Meanwhile, the general architecture and the wheelbase remain the same.
But Mercedes says they’ve worked hard on the suspension and aero characteristics to deliver a car that will be much kinder to its tyres – enough, it’s hoped, to allow the team to be competitive at all phases of the race and at each track on the 2019 calendar.
While Hamilton and Finnish teammate Valtteri Bottas enjoyed a winter break, the Mercedes factory in Northamptonshire was working flat out on the W10, designing and producing parts for the future contender, with around 7,000 drawings released for manufacture.
— Lewis Hamilton (@LewisHamilton) February 13, 2019
“I completely switched off from racing for a while, trying to focus and recentre myself, and training hard for the new season,” said Hamilton, whose contract extension is understood to be worth £40m a year until the end of 2020. “2018 was a great year, but I feel like 2019 can be even better. I want to achieve more. I want to continue to keep pushing. I feel energised and I’m ready to attack.”
With Daniel Ricciardo making the switch from Red Bull to Renault, and Kimi Räikkönen joining Alfa Romeo, all-conquering Mercedes is one of only two teams to retain both drivers for the new campaign.
Hamilton, who turned 34 in January, had a difficult relationship with Jenson Button when they were teammates at McLaren, and with teammate and 2016 world champion Nico Rosberg. But Hamilton appears to have given Bottas a smoother ride.
“I’ve got a good working relationship with Valtteri, but the only time we have a lot of interaction is during our debriefs. Aside from that, he is very focused on his task and I’m very focused on mine.
“I like to think that I’m a very easy teammate to have in a working sense – but in terms of the competitive side, I’m obviously a very difficult teammate,” Hamilton said with a laugh. “You’ve got to have a killer instinct to be a world champion. I have met lots of drivers who were talented, but they didn’t have that edge.
“Since I was a kid, my dad has always emphasised the idea of doing all of the talking on the track – and that is what I always do. Outside of this, I just try to keep myself to myself and work as hard as I can and be respectful to everyone that I work with.”
Credit Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport
At last, and much to his credit, the Stevenage-born driver appears to have been cut some slack for his unashamedly jet-set lifestyle. He has collaborated with fashion designers, hit the waves with legendary surfer Kelly Slater and watched the New England Patriots win the Super Bowl for the sixth time.
“It’s taken a long time, but I do feel like it’s more accepted now,” revealed Hamilton, who spends his downtime at his sprawling ranch in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains.
“I know there are a few old-school drivers who constantly complain. They say things like: ‘Well, I didn’t do that when I was racing.’ And I think to myself: ‘But you raced 50 years ago,’” Hamilton joked.
“I’ve had to do all of these other things and then deliver on the racetrack every single time. In doing so I managed to prove people wrong and show it’s not a distraction from my performances – and it feels great.
“This is my seventh year with the team, and the energy and the determination within the group is really inspiring. I’m really looking forward to the next step of our journey together and embarking on what’s not been done before.”
Claire Bloomfield is a sports journalist and broadcaster who contributes to national newspapers, leading sports titles and global TV networks.