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Formula 1: Lewis Hamilton – “Become first? I don’t miss that feeling.”

The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is ​​the 22nd and final Formula 1 race this year. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) is crowned world champion for the third time in a long time. With another win this Sunday (2 p.m., in the WELT sports ticker), the 26-year-old would pass ex-driver Sebastian Vettel in the all-time best list.

With 54 successes, Verstappen would then be third behind the two record world champions Lewis Hamilton from Mercedes (103) and Michael Schumacher (91). Hamilton is having problems this season. The 38-year-old, who extended his contract with the German factory racing team last August by a further two years until the end of 2025 and will start the race in Abu Dhabi from eleventh place, talks in a big interview about his future plans and reasons for the lack of success.

Ask: You finished the previous season in sixth place and will finish third in the current season. If the trend continues, you will be world champion again next year – at least mathematically…

Lewis Hamilton: (grins) I don’t know if it really works that way. I’ve never expected that before.

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Ask: But do you have the feeling that the overall trend is pointing upwards?

Hamilton: I don’t believe in trends.

Ask: Rather?

Hamilton: Of hard work.

Ask: Is it currently paying off?

Hamilton: Let’s put it this way: We are currently not where we need to be.

Ask: A year ago you told me in an interview here that you wanted to retire as world champion. Do you still believe in it?

Hamilton: (thinks) I don’t know…and I don’t like planning the ending. I don’t know when that will be yet. Gamblers often stay in the casino even when they win and then stay too long. You have to leave when you’re at the top. But I haven’t decided yet if it’s something I’m going to do. I want to get back to the top first. But that could take time.

Ask: Still, it sounds like you still have hope and faith that there will be better days…

Hamilton: Yes definitely.

Ask: 2023 will most likely be your second straight winless season. How do you manage to stay positive and not lose faith?

Hamilton: Life is not just about winning, about coming first. Depending on how you look at things, there are many different scenarios that are victories in some way. To get into the points from further back in the field, for example. Or to bring the team to second place in the constructors’ championship. Something like that can also be a victory. We started this season with a car that was perhaps the fourth best in the field. Perhaps finishing ahead of Ferrari in the World Championship standings would be a good result for us as a team.

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Ask: Mercedes is currently only four points ahead of Ferrari. The World Championship runner-up will be decided in a single race this Sunday…

Hamilton: I already lost a lot of points in the last race. Ferrari will be fast this weekend. It will be difficult to beat them.

Ask: How much does it mean to you to achieve this second place?

Hamilton: It means a lot to the team, to everyone in the factory. But yes, if George (teammate Russell; editor) and I get points this weekend and finish ahead of them, that would be a great achievement. It’s important for us because it shows that you should never give up and keep giving your all. And it would be evidence of really great resilience.

Ask: Which race felt most like a win for you this year?

Hamilton: (thinks for a long time) It really was a long season. I don’t think any race this year felt like a win, no. But having upgrades on the car and making progress encourages you not to give up. It’s about feeling that you’re making progress. Standing still all year would definitely be demotivating.

Ask: David Coulthard said you still believe in Mercedes. And that it’s easier than you think to drive a car that isn’t a winning car. Do you agree that it is easier?

Hamilton: No, that is not my experience. I also think people forget that I’ve had bad cars throughout my career. In 2009 the car was a disaster, but in the end we worked hard and got a win. There were no winning cars from 2010 to 2013 either. After that we had these great years. There are ups and downs, that’s motorsport. When you’re in a slump, it’s much harder when things don’t go as planned. On the other hand, when things fall into place and the car is good to drive, you can perform at your best with more ease.

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Ask: How much do you miss the feeling of being in the lead and crossing the finish line first?

Hamilton: I don’t really miss it. The perspective changes. When it is clear at the beginning of the season that you are not racing for poles or victories, you direct your energy and focus towards problem solving. I like solving problems. Unfortunately in this sport it takes a little longer.” (laughs)

Ask: How do you feel about the coming year?

Hamilton: I haven’t really thought about it yet and I’m trying not to think about it yet. I don’t want to think about racing for as long as possible, that’s how it is at this point in the year. I’m not yet worried about what happens in February and March. I put my energy into taking my niece and nephews skiing, looking forward to building snowmen, looking forward to the Christmas tree, and spending time with my mom and friends. In February the worries and strain begin again.

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Ask: Hand on heart: Is it just your car, or are you starting to notice its age?

Hamilton: No. I feel great. Maybe things will go downhill after 40, but I don’t feel anything yet.

Ask: There are always rumors linking you to other teams, most recently Red Bull and Ferrari. How connected do you still feel to Mercedes?

Hamilton: These rumors are not true! I haven’t been with Christian for a long time (Red Bull boss Horner, the editorial team) spoken. With Fred (Ferrari-Chef Vasseur, die Redaktion) I talk often in the paddock, we have known each other for a long time. But I’ve been with Mercedes since I was 13. There was never a question of whether I would continue here.

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Ask: So it’s not worth sacrificing that deep connection to sit in a winning car somewhere else and win your eighth title?

Hamilton: Going to another team with a good car because you don’t win has zero appeal for me. Winning in a car that has been a winning car for a long time doesn’t feel like an achievement. That wouldn’t be satisfactory for me. I spent such a long time with Mercedes. It’s easy to walk away when things are difficult. But I’ve never done anything like that. I’ve always been there through thick and thin. I never considered leaving because the car wasn’t good enough.

Ask: In good times and bad – like in a marriage?

Hamilton: (laughs) Yes, probably. It’s really a bit like a marriage. Also because we have been together for so long. There are drivers who often change teams. But I just realize that it takes a long time to build relationships of this depth. And it is in the difficult times that these relationships grow the most.

Ask: In what way?

Hamilton: Over the last few years we have really gone into depth and deep bonds have developed. When things aren’t going well in life, you realize who your real friends are. That’s how it is here too. It was nice to get through these really terrible times with the team, which were sometimes quite terrible for both sides. There is a silver lining, however, and I am very proud of everyone I have worked with and grateful for the opportunity to continue working with them. And I still have a very strong faith and a lot of hope that we can get back to where we deserve to be. To do this requires each of us to do our best. That’s not easy in this huge apparatus. But one team is doing it right now, so that’s it.

The interview was written for the Sports Competence Center (WELT, SPORT BILD, BILD) and first published in BILD AM SONNTAG.

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