I want to emulate Michael Schumacher at Ferrari, says Lewis Hamilton
The aim is clear. It is not enough to be regarded as a good driver. Lewis Hamilton wants to be a great driver, Michael Schumacher great, in fact. That is the challenge Hamilton has set himself at Mercedes, where he was unveiled before the Brackley staff for the first time.
Hamilton insisted there had been not a moment's regret since he declined a deal to stay at McLaren, a team with a proven winning pedigree. In six seasons at Woking Hamilton won 21 races, most of those in his first two years, during which he lost and won the world championship by a point. There is little of the Formula One experience that he has not tasted, save for the opportunity to shape a team. At McLaren he developed in a culture created by Ron Dennis. The move to Mercedes is in every sense a reaction to that stifling immersion.
"I just want to try something different. I'm not scared to try new things. I really wanted a different experience. Michael went to Ferrari as champion, which was more positive. I like to think I could do something similar. He did it with a great group of people. I definitely feel I have joined a team with great people around me.
"Part of this move is about achieving that next step. I could be a good driver but I want to be great. It could end badly, but I hope not. To be great is to work with this team to help turn them into one of the most successful in the sport. If I am able to do that it will be special."
Hamilton is still fighting the perception that his achievements were authored by a benevolent Dennis, bailing him out since the age of 13. The association did not hinder but the blithe assumption ignores the weight of the raw material he brought to the equation. Not for nothing does former team-mate Fernando Alonso, with whom Hamilton endured a radioactive first season in grand prix racing, regard him as his greatest rival, ahead of Red Bull's triple world champion Sebastian Vettel. The feeling is mutual.
"It's a huge plus to have positive comments from Fernando. I felt I always had positive things to say about him but a lot of stuff just got in the way back then. We both perhaps said things we did not mean or in the heat of the moment but I think we have both grown quite a lot since then and we talk a lot more nowadays. I've always regarded him highly even before I got to Formula One. It is a real pleasure to see us moving forward and growing, having mutual respect for one another.
"I feel the same about him and his driving. He is the best. He has been doing a phenomenal job all these years. I hope at some stage I can have a car to compete again. You grow up with the attitude that you have to respect your elders and to know your position. I was just grateful [in 2007] to be given the opportunity but because it was going so well at the time I was like, 'no, just treat me the same and you'll see the difference.'"
The result was a toxic meltdown that by the Hungarian Grand Prix of August of 2007 was beyond repair. There is no doubt the negative associations connected with that internecine feud tainted Hamilton, perhaps indelibly for some in the paddock. This is an opportunity to create a new narrative that adds a more positive glow to his work.
"Perseverance is going to be the key for all of us. I'll be flat out all the way working as hard as I can to drive them to success. It's a team effort not a one-man band but I want them to know that whilst they are putting in 100 per cent I'll be doing the same. This is a new time for me and I feel I have equally good people here working just as hard as anyone else.
"The exciting thing here if it goes the way I hope it will is starting with a team that does not have years of winning multiple world championships, that does not have that history. There is a new history to be made here. To build this team from one that is struggling to one day succeeding would be massively satisfying for me. Whether or not we get there remains to be seen.
"I'm happy. I made a decision and I will stick with it. I feel fresh and ready to work. I could have stayed and just kept on winning races at McLaren. But I see a lot of room for growth. I don't see it as a gamble. I'm 28. Hopefully I have a good 10 years left in me."