Lewis Hamilton: 'This year is what matters'
Mindset is the key to the revitalised Lewis Hamilton, together with a more settled private life, as he heads to Australia for the start next weekend of one of the toughest world championship battles in history.
Hamilton, now 27 and the veteran of five gruelling F1 campaigns, has clearly been doing a lot of soul-searching during the off-season. He has reunited with girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger – "Women have that secret power, don't they?" said Hamilton – and hooked up with former champion Mika Hakkinen's old manager Didier Coton, well known in F1 circles as a calming influence.
Now Hamilton says that his mindset is closer to what it was back in 2007 and 2008, when he exercised iron discipline. It's not so much been a matter of that changing, as his outlook on life changing in the intervening years, together with fluctuations in the competitiveness of his cars. "It's not necessarily that I lost the discipline," he says, "just that I was massively disciplined at that time. Then my focus was spread over a wider range of things. Now it's a lot back to where it used to be."
He talked too last week of the sacrifices that an F1 athlete must make. "It's all about the decisions you make, about the things you want to do in your life, your focus on training, not wasting energy," he said.
"It's a real combination of things. Such as if I get a call from a friend, they say 'do you want to go out tonight for a drink before the race weekend or before the season starts', and instead of saying 'yeah let's go and do it' you'll be staying at home and training the next day. That is the kind of sacrifices you need in F1.
"Last year quite a lot of times I went out and enjoyed myself thinking that these things don't affect you but in actual fact they do, they have a knock-on effect. It takes you two days to recover, you miss two days of training and your mind is somewhere else when you get to the race.
"It's the amount of travel you do, choosing the right time to travel, the right place at the right time, ahead of time. Going out to Australia and China early, to make sure I get there in plenty of time. Those kind of things. They are all sorts of things you can improve."
Hamilton has established himself as a charismatic and forceful racer, and for every incident he had with Felipe Massa last year there are two or three stunning performances elsewhere in his career. It's what has made him as popular with race fans as the late Gilles Villeneuve in the 1980s. But even Hamilton seems to have realised that attack, attack, attack is not always the wisest strategy, especially in the era of Pirelli's deliberately marginal tyres.
"There will be times to attack and times to sit back," he acknowledges easily. "It's not that I have a different mindset, because I've kind of had that mindset in the past but maybe not as strong, and perhaps I haven't executed it in quite the right way. At the times when I was supposed to lean back, I have attacked. It's all about being able to make those judgements with a clear mind, and I feel I now have that again.
"Now I'm looking forwards. This year is what matters. Last year has absolutely no bearing on me, I don't care about last year. It's what's ahead of me which will define me.
"As I said, my mind's in a good place. When everything is right, or as my uncle says, when all the stars are aligned and you can sing, I can get some good results."
How Lewis can stay on track
1. Focus totally on the racing and forget about the distractions of social life off the track.
2. Learn to the best out of his tyres,the way team-mate Jenson Button can, without overstressing them.
3. Employ that knowledge to best effect to beat Button.
4. Regenerate the intense and mutually respectful relationship he once enjoyed at McLaren.
5. Avoid making mistakes, and contact with Felipe Massa!