Features - Interview
JUNE 22, 2006
A chat with Lewis Hamilton
BY RUPERT MANWARING
Lewis Hamilton's dominance in the GP2 series continued at Silverstone and took him ever closer to the tantalizing prospect of the young British driver jumping straight into a McLaren F1 seat next year.
The GP2 Championship leader captured the imagination of his home crowd as he romped to his second victory of the weekend, earning a standing ovation. After the race, fans were queuing up to give their congratulations, the praise always the same - "the Formula 1 was boring compared to you", as much a testament to F1's much more racing-friendly support series as to Hamilton's racing ability. However, there is no denying that Hamilton's breathtaking three abreast move on Clivio Piccione and Championship rival Nelson Piquet Jr, as they went into Becketts, was a sign of raw talent and one that made the home fans sit up and freshen up hopes of a new British star in F1.
Being in front of the adoring fans also whetted Hamilton's appetite for success.
"On the in-lap as I was coming in, I really could feel the buzz from the crowd; the amazing support," he says. "I couldn't hear the fans or anything but it just felt amazing, and you know they're all British, you can see all the flags. It's the best feeling to see that support, because usually you go to Europe and it's just not the same. They might cheer you on but it's nowhere near as immense as it is here."
Having dominated another round in GP2 and with Ron Dennis saying "There's no question that he'll be in F1 next season", the press is starting to think about the young Briton driving in F1 next year, especially as Jenson Button (who has been built up for so long) has yet to deliver the wins that they want. Hamilton says that he knew as early as during pre-season testing that racing in F1 in 2007 was a very real prospect:
"It wasn't that I was that confident but it was what I wanted to do. I knew that I had to win GP2 and dominate it as best as I can, like I did in Euro Formula 3 last year. Your results speak for themselves. Nico [Rosberg] and Heikki [Kovalainen] did it last season and if I can do it and do it better than them then there's got to be a place for me in F1."
It could be said that Hamilton's strong finishes are a result of ART Grand Prix having the dominant car but, the second ART driver Alexandre Premat faired a lot better against Nico Rosberg last year than he has against the rookie Hamilton so far this season. When you consider also that Premat has much more experience in GP2 and that Rosberg has gone on to impress at Williams in F1, then the early signs suggest that Hamilton is ready for Formula 1. But will he hold out for a race drive?
"That's my goal, that's what I want. I am a racing driver, testing doesn't really interest me but if I didn't have an opportunity to race, a test seat on the Friday practice session would be perfect. That would be a good position to be in."
There's nothing wrong with starting out at a small team, like Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber did at Minardi. It allowed them to quietly get on with their business, away from any real expectation, and vitally they got to prove their ability, as any driver's pace is only ever judged by how they compare to their teammate. However, Hamilton is adamant that his aim is to drive at McLaren alongside the ever dominant and seemingly unbeatable Alonso. That would expose him at a time when he is learning. His argument however is that the stronger the team mate the better it is for him.
Nothing seems to faze the 21 year old, and it appears his unique long-term relationship with McLaren Mercedes, that started when he was just 12 years old, has given him an extraordinary inner belief, while high expectations have long ago taught him how to deal with pressure:
"They've had a major input into my career. Ron (Dennis) has paid very close attention to how I'm doing. He's not so much put pressure on me but there is that pressure there as he wants me to succeed. He's proud and I think he's quite emotionally involved in it, which is a good thing. He was out on the podium, watching me today, and that's a great feeling. We've been friends and together for nine years now so it's quite a long partnership considering I'm only 21. I just hope he gives me the opportunity to race for him next year".
Dennis has usually preferred to pay big fees for drivers, but he might be keen to show his rival, Sir Frank Williams, who was done very well out of taking chances on rookies, particularly Brits such as Damon Hill, David Coulthard and Jenson Button, that he too can spot talent. Williams has always enjoyed making champions out of drivers where Dennis has gone for proven talent. Having secured the services of hottest property in Alonso, it seems like a very small risk to put a very talented youngster in the car next to him. His Ôemotional involvement', as Hamilton calls it, might just make him go with his heart on this one.