Lewis Hamilton said he is at the top of his game as heads in to Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix and even he has been surprised his form has been so strong this season. Bernie Ecclestone, too, has noted that the world champion will be hard to beat.
Hamilton leads his Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg by 17 points in the world championship and, as well as winning two of the first three rounds of the season, he has now finished ahead of Rosberg for nine of the last 10 races.
When it was put to him that he was enjoying the best form of his life, Hamilton said: “I’d like to think so. Generally I was last year. Approaching this year I was thinking it’s more likely it’s going to go the other way, that it wouldn’t be as good as it was.
“But I’ve almost surprised myself, that it’s been strong and building on what I did last year, how I’ve been driving, how I’ve been adapting to things. I’ve been really on it, and really proud of what I have achieved generally.”
It is in stark contrast to Rosberg, who appeared rattled after finishing second behind an assured drive by Hamilton in China, and accused the British driver of selfishly compromising his race. The pair have publicly stated they have moved on from the incident but many are now drawing the inference that Hamilton now has a psychological edge over his team-mate.
Regardless of whether China was just Rosberg having a minor off-day, or a symptom of nervousness that he may not be able to match his team-mate this season, Hamilton does have an edge. Winning his second title last was part of the process. “The feeling is hard to describe. It was amazing. You get a kind of extra hop in your walk,” he said. “When I was world champion before I didn’t have that feeling. It was different this time, this time I’m aware of it. It’s exciting. In the past I didn’t enjoy it, and not that I live with regret, but that’s something I would change.
“Now I’ve the chance again and I’m enjoying it, enjoying the feeling of the hard work I’ve put in, the hard work my team has put in.”
In the paddock on Friday Ecclestone agreed with Hamilton. “Lewis looks in good form. He would take a lot of beating I think, but that’s good for the sport,” he said. While for Rosberg, whom he acknowledged was in the same calibre as Hamilton, there was less sympathy. “I don’t know what he was complaining about. Lewis was going fast enough to win the race. Did Nico want him to driver slower?” he asked. “Everyone wants to see them racing, including Lewis and Nico. They all want to race but what he’s complaining about is the fact that if you get close enough to overtake, you lose a lot of downforce. It all comes back to regulations.”
The regulations are not going to change in time for Rosberg this weekend and he needs a win to kickstart his title fight and he must show the mental resilience to do so, believes Jenson Button. “When your team-mate beats you for two or three races on the trot it hurts,” he said. “You have to take it on the chin, look at the reasons why and move forward but it’s easier said than done. You have moments where you doubt yourself and you need good people around you to help you through that.
“In F1 every driver in a top team is very talented, with natural ability, but they also work very hard, so a lot of it comes down to mental strength. It’s a massive mental game. Sometimes you’re on a high and sometimes on a low. It makes a massive difference. This isn’t down to fitness, a lot of it is down to your mental abilities to deal with the pressure and difficult situations.”
Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel, who will expect to be strong at this track, as they were in Malaysia, topped the running for Ferrari in the first practice session while both Mercedes were making long runs. But in the evening with cooler temperatures under the floodlights, Rosberg had achieved part one of his goal this weekend with the advantage on the time sheets over Hamilton by a fraction over a tenth of a second.
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