Abu Dhabi: There is a fire that burns in Lewis Hamilton that shows no sign of abating.
At the US Grand Prix on November 3, Hamilton won the Formula One drivers’ championship for the sixth time. Only Michael Schumacher, who retired in 2012, has won more, with seven.
As the season-ending Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix takes place in the UAE this weekend, Hamilton has opened up about his hunger to add to his collection of titles.
“I’m going to be racing for more years — I want to win every year,” Hamilton said. “I don’t think I have hit my peak yet, so that is comforting.
“I’ll be pushing more than ever in these following years, going into every year as if it’s my first. Everyone starts from a clean slate, and that will be the same next year. We are all fighting for that world title, and I’m still chasing it.”
There are no major changes to the regulations for 2020, which means, because the cars are not changing, Hamilton and Mercedes will again be favourites to win championships; the team won its sixth consecutive constructors’ title in October.
Hamilton said he was not motivated to equal, or better, Schumacher’s record, which was once considered untouchable.
“I’ve always said to you that reaching Michael’s record was never a target for me,” Hamilton said. “I’m not really one that thinks of records and those kinds of things. I thought that getting anywhere near Michael was just so far-fetched.”
Toto Wolff, the Mercedes motorsport boss, said the record had stood because it’s difficult to achieve.
“If we are able to provide the drivers with a good car next year that is competitive, we continue to work on the gaps we still have, try to minimise the mistakes, there is no reason why he can’t go for a seventh title.”
Wolff was asked what makes Hamilton so special.
“He just drives cars bloody fast,” Wolff said. “It’s where talent meets a big push for self-improvement all the time, and that combination makes him stand out in his generation.”
Hamilton won the championship last year with a stellar season, winning 11 grands prix and securing 11 pole positions. He achieved a level of excellence rarely seen in Formula One, making few errors on the track.
This season has been more difficult. He has only started from pole four times but has still won 10 races.
He has found a way to win despite Mercedes not always having the quickest, or the best, overall car, and Ferrari and Red Bull posing robust challenges.
Other drivers said Hamilton was able to push the limits of what appears possible in a car.
“You can’t just have talent, you have to want to win, and his determination to win is very evident when he is racing,” said Damon Hill, the 1996 Formula One world champion.
“When he is in the car, he is able to extract every last drop of performance out of himself and do things that other people can’t.”
Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari is a four-time champion and finished second to Hamilton in 2017 and 2018. This season the German driver has struggled, winning only one race.
He has respect for Hamilton, saying “he is absolutely one of the best”.
“Lewis is undoubtedly a great professional who stands out among all the drivers of his generation,” Vettel added. “If somebody wins the title six times, he deserves all of it.”
Mario Andretti, who won the 1978 Formula One world title and four IndyCar titles, said Hamilton was a force “right from the very beginning” after starting his career with McLaren in 2007, when he finished second in the championship.
“You can see he has never lost his nerve to be up there,” Andretti said. “He wants for nothing less.
“The best part about him is that he is really enjoying life, and he is on top of the world right now.”
The best way to judge a driver is by his teammate.
Valtteri Bottas of Finland is having his best season this year. He has won four grands prix and finished in the top three 11 other times. But Bottas will still finish a distant second to Hamilton in the drivers’ standings.
“Normally, on a Sunday, he rarely has any weaknesses, relating his race craft and driving style to the conditions,” Bottas said of Hamilton.
“He always keeps improving, and as long as you want to improve, and you work for it, then you can, and Lewis is definitely doing it. He’s not chilling out, he’s working to improve. There’s no doubt he’s motivated to win I don’t know how many titles.”
Wolff said it was Hamilton’s ability “to self-analyse and progress” that has enabled him “to become a better man out of the car and a better man in it”.
Hamilton sees himself continuing in Formula One at the end of his contract with Mercedes, which expires at the end of next season.
New regulations take effect for the 2021 season, which mean the cars will look different and be designed for closer racing. Hamilton said he was excited about helping Mercedes continue to stay ahead of the opposition.
“When there is a challenge, a massive change in the regulations, that’s a huge chance for me as a driver to help use the skills I’ve learnt over the years to help navigate the team in the right direction,” Hamilton said.
“I don’t see myself going anywhere else,” he said. “I love being here at Mercedes, being part of the brand, part of the history. I’ve been with Mercedes since I was 13, so the idea of continuing on with them, even beyond Formula One, probably heavily involved with Daimler, is quite attractive to me.”
Wolff said the team would not begin contract negotiations until the season ends but feels Hamilton’s loyalty to Mercedes may be the deciding factor if teams like Ferrari try to grab him.
“Ferrari will look at the options they have and think, ‘What do we want for 2021?’” he said. “We are having the same thoughts as to what will be the perfect line-up for 2021.
“As long as we are able to provide the winning car, Lewis has no reason to consider other teams, and we have no reason to look elsewhere.”