As Formula One completes its opening flyaway rounds and enters a short break before the next race in Barcelona on 10 May, Lewis Hamilton – who has won three of the four races thus far – believes his car has even greater potential than last year, when he won the world championship for the second time.
Yet even with such machinery beneath him it has not stopped speculation about a move to Ferrari, who have responded by denying there have been any discussions.
Hamilton took a comfortable win in Bahrain on Sunday, leading for 49 of 57 laps, managing his run perfectly and maintaining a solid gap for almost the entire race to his rivals Nico Rosberg, Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen. “I feel very powerful in this car, with the package we have,” he said. “I feel I am able to get everything from it. I feel more comfortable in this one than I did in last year’s.”
The handling in particular was performing exactly as Hamilton wanted. “I feel within myself that whatever approach I have the powers are greater than ever from the car,” he said.
Hamilton, whose contract with Mercedes ends this year, has yet to conclude a new deal with the team despite repeatedly stating it was almost complete. Equally, Raikkonen’s contract with Ferrari is also up for renewal this year, which means there is, potentially, a seat available.
Bernie Ecclestone stoked the rumours last week, saying: “It would be great to see Lewis at Ferrari. Whether Sebastian would want that, I really don’t know. But if Lewis went there, it would be great for the sport, 100%”
When asked after the race on Sunday whether Hamilton had been in talks with Ferrari, the team’s principal, Maurizio Arrivabene, said: “Does Lewis Hamilton call you? He never calls me.”
A move for Hamilton at this stage seems unlikely. He is still in the dominant car and even with discussion continuing over engine changes, they will not take place until 2017. So he would expect to have at least one more very good shot at the title despite Ferrari’s recent upsurge in form, while there is no reason any engine change will necessarily disadvantage Mercedes, who have already made the V6 units work in exemplary fashion.
Equally he has the hammer on his team-mate at the moment, giving him an advantage within the team, which would not be the case were he to start afresh across the garage from Vettel. And yet stranger things have happened.
Hamilton’s move to Mercedes was not entirely expected while Vettel’s to Ferrari last year was a surprise, and then there is the potent lure of driving for the team in red, which was acknowledged by Arrivabene. “Every driver in the paddock wants to drive for Ferrari, this is normal, even guys that were quite a lot of the time world champion,” he said. The Ferrari president, Sergio Marchionne, reportedly rates Hamilton very highly.
But all of which for the moment is academic in terms of the racing. On track, Hamilton is doing exactly what he must and has enjoyed a storming start to the season. He has taken every pole and has only been beaten to a win once by Vettel, in Malaysia, earning him a 27 point advantage over team-mate Rosberg, with 28 over Vettel. But despite the confidence in his car he also insists his focus on the coming European races is as strong as ever.
“Naturally you feel there are always things you can still do,” he said. “It’s hard to always pinpoint what those are but that’s what a team leader has got to do. So that’s what I am trying to do, along with Nico, as drivers to guide the team where to go next.’
“This weekend, brilliant job, now I am going to see if I can improve, I want to improve when I get to Barcelona.”
To do so was a matter of hard work, he insisted and that he was not, as has been suggested, coasting on his raw talent. “I don’t know how people in the paddock get a perception of what you do as a driver,” he said. “I work just as hard as any other driver does with my engineers. There was a point when people said Nico was the doctor of ‘this’, or Jenson was the doctor of his tyres. I’ve worked to try and tick all those boxes off. The results I get are not only from my raw ability. I study hard. I’ve worked hard to understand my tyres. I make notes about every single thing that I do. I’ve done that since Formula 3.”
Hamilton, then, does not lack motivation, but just as Arrivabene was denying his team were in talks with him, the Ferrari chief was also explaining how he is encouraging Raikkonen to greater things. Having told Raikkonen any new deal would depend on his performance, he said after the race: “If you ask me now: ‘Does he deserve to renew the option?’ I am going to say yes. But if I am going to say yes, I don’t want the driver to fall asleep. I want to keep him awake.
“Kimi is at his best when he is in a bit in trouble. This is a psychological approach. So the [contract] at the moment is [blank]. Sometimes I have to take the pen, and take it away and then Kimi is on the podium …”
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