Lewis Hamilton is the greatest Formula One champion there has ever been, according to the sport’s chief executive, Bernie Ecclestone, who also criticised the four-times winner Sebastian Vettel for not being good enough.
Ecclestone, who was referring to the driver’s ability to promote the sport as well as his talent in the car, said: “Lewis has been the best world champion we’ve had. Apart from the fact he’s talented, he’s a good guy, he gets out on the street and supports and promotes Formula One.”
When someone pointed out that Hamilton sometimes spoke impulsively, Ecclestone replied: “It doesn’t matter, it’s always good whatever he says, even if it’s silly. It’s great for the sport.
“I told Sebastian: ‘You should be doing what he’s doing.’ Doing the job of world champion. He was the champion and got paid money for that, and these guys think their only job is racing a racing car. It goes a bit further than that.
“What these guys don’t think about is that today Jackie Stewart is still making quite a bit of money and he hasn’t been in a car for quite a few years. It works because he’s looked after his image and he still does a good job. Perhaps these guys think when they stop ‘that’ll be it.’”
Ecclestone’s comments rounded off a mixed day for Hamilton, who topped the afternoon practice session despite having his running severely restricted by engine problems.
“Whenever you lose a session – and pretty much half of the second – it definitely doesn’t help,” he said. “But the team did a great job to rebuild the car and that was crucial.”
Hamilton also revealed on social media that he had had a special helmet made for the race here on Sunday but has not been allowed to wear it because of new rules introduced this season.
“I had a special helmet made this weekend to celebrate Petronas and Malaysia as I love this race,” Hamilton wrote on Instagram. “But due to the FIA’s new rule of not allowing drivers to change their helmet designs, I cannot wear it.”
Hamilton goes into his 150th career race here on Sunday looking for his eighth victory in nine outings. Not that he knew either statistic until he was told this week.
“It’s pretty amazing! 150 races,” he said. “It doesn’t really mean anything to me, 120, 130, 170, but it’s pretty crazy because I remember my first race in Formula One, coming out of the garage and seeing my dad there. It’s crazy to think 150 races in F1.”
After eight seasons can he do another eight? “It’ll be tough. Jenson [Button] has done it. I can’t see it, but in the next four years I might laugh and stay another four years after that.
“The thing is there’s nothing beyond it that’s ever going to come close, apart from having kids. But even that is different, isn’t it? There’s nothing that’s going to come close to that sensation of a grand prix weekend, working with the team, working with the engineers, driving the car. After that, it’s all downhill I’m pretty sure. Some people have tried to eke it out as long as possible but fortunately I’m not in a position to have to make that decision right now.”
Hamilton looks a great deal more relaxed than a year ago, when he came into this race already trailing by 25 points after a retirement in Australia. His decision to join Mercedes has never looked better.
He shook his head like a rather impatient schoolmaster when he was asked about how Niki Lauda had talked him into joining the team during the 2013 Singapore Grand Prix.
“Honestly, I have to keep correcting people,” he admonished, before pointing out that it was the Mercedes master builder Ross Brawn who had talked him into signing.
“It was before Singapore. Ross came to my house and explained what process the team was in. People say I signed for the money, but it wasn’t the case. Ross came to me and explained the improvements Mercedes were making, the direction they want to go in. He had this file. He had a plan. And he sold it.” Brawn left Mercedes at the end of 2013 but his influence will be felt for some time yet.
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