A smiley, positive Lewis Hamilton greeted the media at the Mercedes launch day, clearly excited by seeing the W09 being presented to the world, but also, refreshed after an extended winter break.

He answered a large number of questions, covering a multitude of subjects including the car itself, his contract, the Halo, social media, what he got up to on his travels, and more.

Knowing that Lewis’s fans like to hear the whole story rather than a fragmented quote, we decided to let you read the lion’s share of it, and hear what he had to say in full.

On launch day, and the W09:

“This is the first time that I’ve seen the car put together, and I’ve just been reminiscing with Aldo (Costa – Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport Engineering Director) that it’s my sixth season with the team, and it’s kind of crazy to think that it’s been that long, also seeing the development of the car each year. This is the most exciting part of the year obviously, up until this point, to see the whole car come together. I have seen the development of the car for the last eight months so to see all of the pieces come together, it’s a work of art, and it was really just incredible to see.”

“I am always in awe of the team, because there’s so many people in the team, so many moving parts, and to see them all come together and bring the genius, and all of that piled into this beautifully sculpted car, is amazing. And only two of us get to drive it all year! It’s such a unique privilege to have and I just walked into the garage now, and they took the cover off and I’m just staring at it like “how do they do that?” There’s all these components – if they’ve got two dampers on one part, they will have redesigned it to make it one this year so it’s lighter, it’s just how everything evolves. It’s quite phenomenal to see the technology move at the pace that it does, and I’m just excited to be back!”

Photo Credit: Sarah Merritt

On his contract negotiations with Mercedes:

“Me and Toto have been talking for a while and obviously, once I left in December, I was away and it’s not something that I like to do over the phone, and I didn’t get back until February.”

“We spoke quite often, and we were constantly talking to each other about how we are committed to each other. Toto knows that. I know that there’s no-one better, so he’s not going to be looking anywhere else, and he knows that I know there’s nowhere else better, so I’m not going to be looking anywhere else. We are comfortable, and we are committed to each other. It’s just about, as always, talking about the details.”

“Hopefully we’ll have something done before the beginning of the season, before the start of the first race, but again, we’re just in no rush. There’s no reason to rush anything. There’s no panic, I’m not feeling under any pressure of any other drivers being there, and Toto and Mercedes have no reason to feel that I’m talking to anybody else.”

“In the whole six years that I’ve been here, I’ve not spoken to another team once, and I think that really shows my commitment. I know that the team have been contacted by other drivers in the past, and probably still are today, that inevitable, but we always made it clear at the beginning that if I was to engage and look at my options that I would inform them, and I’ve not needed to because I haven’t.”

On the halo:

“Honestly, I think the team have done a great job to integrate it and make it look as nice as it can look, and it’s a fact, something that we’ve known for some time now that it was coming, and I think honestly that at the beginning of the season, we’ll forget after a few races we’ll forget that it’s even there, and we’ll look at the old cars…we often we look at the old car and think it’s so dated. This is the new world now and I’m sure it’s only the first step of evolution or development for this safety level, but it is heavy, the cars are getting heavier, so it’s a big car, but it’s streamlined as much as it can be.

On Valtteri’s comments on the W09 suiting him this year:

“Naturally, Valtteri came into a brand new team and a brand new car, and he was learning it from scratch. This is an evolution of last year’s car, so it will handle and fit the ergonomics all the same. In the cockpit, he will be sitting in the same seat from last year, the same controls, so there’s none of that learning he’s going to need to do there so, for sure, that already means he is more comfortable.”

“It’s a car that we both pushed and developed through last year, so what we see today is an evolution of both of our driving DNA fused into one, and I hope that he’s more comfortable in it today, that can only bode well for the team. It’s definitely not moved away from me, I’m very, very close to my engineers and I’m very much on top of that. It’s going to be a challenge, and the car will obviously quicker this year so it will be interesting to see how we get on.”

Photo Credit: Sarah Merritt

On the car weight this year (around 820kg at race start) – what is this heavy F1 car going to be like to drive?

“I’ll try to veer off the negativity, but the cars have been getting heavier and heavier each year, and that does obviously affect the braking zones. There’s various challenges in that the brakes are always on the limit and they’ve not really developed them much further than they have been for the last couple of years. The technology is kind of limited in the carbon industry, so that becomes more and more of a challenge for cooling, but I think the team have handled it very well, from last years’ experience with the heavier car.”

“It is going to be quicker, so the physical levels steps up a bit, and again, that’s in the right direction. I hope they don’t get much heavier than they are, but I think next year, the car and the driver and the seat can be 80kg or something like that, so I can be a bodybuilder next year, basically, and get the beach look I want!”

“There are parts of the lighter and more nimble cars that I prefer of the past. Easier to overtake, easier to manoeuvre in combat, whereas with the heavier cars, that gets slower, and the heavier they are, they will just continue to get slower, in that respect.”

On the input Lewis has given as a driver towards the W09:

“Obviously I am not in the engineers office and I’m not designing anything. Our role as drivers is naturally to take whatever package we are given and take it to the limit and exploit it. The engineers are all about numbers, so to them, they will see a bunch of numbers and know that it can be perfect in all these different scenarios and the simulation drives it round perfectly, but the simulator doesn’t come across the same scenarios that a real driver would, moving around the circuit. My job is to explain the weaknesses, and put a feeling into technical terms so that the team can design something to fix it.”

“I’m really hopeful that this year, we’ve ironed out quite a lot of creases, and that there’s a different aerodynamic characteristic this year from last year…that we’ve taken some of the good from last year, but there were circuits that we went to where we weren’t that strong, so hopefully, we’ve found a compromise that will favour the majority of the grand prix circuits. Other things like some of the suspension, some of the roll issues that we had, some of the ride issues we had, some of the floor characteristics, those things will be improved quite a lot.”

“Everything is brand new – all of the suspension and everything, has been redone. I remember last year in Malaysia last year, I can’t remember what result we had, but we had a very “in depth” debrief afterwards – those particular debriefs that we had were significant into making today’s car and in those debriefs, only Valtteri and I talk really.”

Photo Credit: Sarah Merritt

On what he expects from Ferrari this year:

“It will be red…” (laughs).

“It’s difficult to know, and this is obviously it’s a very exciting time. You see the pictures come out, and all the ones that are a bit closer in Autosport or in the race magazines are all a very vague image, and you can’t really see items on the car. I haven’t seen the Red Bull yet, but I think last year when they turned up, it had no furniture on it, it was very basic. Their development curve was quite steep over the year, a second and a bit behind then with us at the end. But I think coming into this year, being that we ended the season with Ferrari, Red Bull and ourselves were very close, I anticipate that this year will probably be quite similar from that sense.”

“I think you will see a tougher battle this year, and who knows, there might be another team – I’m not really aware of how McLaren are potentially doing, but hopefully, there’s more in the mix and it’s tighter.”

On his winter break, and how he recharged his batteries:

“I had a slightly different winter. Actually I started in Los Angeles, then I was in Colorado, there was no snow, but I was with family. Then I made a trip out to Japan with Monster, which was pretty epic.”

“I got to snowboard, which is what I love doing in the winter, so I do as much as I can, but to be honest, I didn’t get a lot this year as there was very little snow, it was more icy, so I didn’t really take too much risk in that respect. Then I went to Japan, and that was pretty incredible. I went surfing in Japan one of the days where I think it was raining, so we didn’t snowboard, we went to the sea, which you can see from the mountain. So that was a good experience, because I love Japan, and the food was great. Then I did some work and training there, and then I flew back to Europe, and I was there for a couple of weeks.”

“Then I was back over in the States, and I went surfing with Kelly Slater, which was pretty awesome. I say I went surfing, but I did a lot of swimming, because I’m not the greatest surfer yet – the goal is to improve! It’s great for working out, because you’re paddling the whole time, and it’s quite physical. I got down to a 6’2 board, so I was quite happy with my progress. You know when you watch these top surfers like Kelly, you see them on a big wave coming over? It’s crazy, so that’s where I want to be. I go for the biggest waves and I get barrelled over, but, I did great training out there in Hawaii, which was beautiful, and then came back.”

“It was actually the longest break that I’ve had in ten years, because normally, you have a bit of December and a bit of January, and then you’re back. But the team agreed to it, and then you get the time to really recharge, because it’s been a long hard slog last year, and so to recharge, have family around me, I feel great. I think if I’d come back a little bit earlier, I might feel as well as I do.”

On being a four-time world champion, and possibly matching Fangio:

“Honestly, when we left Abu Dhabi, there are some days following that where you are in the factory, around people who are quite hyped that you’ve won the championship, but then you forget about it. When I was with my family, and through Colorado and Japan, I didn’t think a single thought of motor racing, and fortunately,  I had no-one reminding me that I was a four-time world champion, so you kind of forget about it and go back to normality.”

“Then as you enter the new year, and you start your training, you start to figure out why are you training, what are you working for, what are your goals, what are you moving forward to. It’s kind of a discover thing. It’s not as simple as just writing it down. You have to try and really figure out where you’ll find the determination and the drive.”

“I was saying over the last couple of days that I saw something about being up there, possibly, with Fangio, so that is quite an exciting prospect. I feel like I’m in the best shape that I’ve ever been. I mean, I say that every year, but I train differently each year and this year, I think as the cars are quicker, you need to be stronger.”

“Right now, I’m a little bit heavier than I will be for the first race, so from now until then, it’s about getting the fat percentage down, but keeping the strength. I think there were areas of last year that were great, but I want to improve on those. Consistency was awesome last year, so if I can take some of the ingredients of last year, and add a couple of spices in this year, then I think I can have a better year.”

On possible increased tension with Ferrari and Vettel this season:

“Well, you would have to expect that it could be worse. Always expect the worst and hopefully it will be better. This year, given the fact that it is going to be a closer season, we have no idea of what we are going to face. What I can say is that last year was a positive year in respect of handling the different situations that are faced, and generally over the last few years have not been too bad. I’ll be even better this year, so it shouldn’t be an issue either way. What really focused for me is just making sure that I perform at my best. Hopefully if I am performing at my best, then there will be issues, because they’ll be upset by it.”

“Honestly, I don’t play mind games, I just drive faster. Simple”

On how he compartmentalises in his life:

“I think in life, whatever job we are in, we’ve all got hurdles that we come across, and I’m constantly showed that it’s not how you fall, it’s how you get up. We’ve got Billy Monger here, for example, who had a horrifying incident, and he’s racing Formula 3 this year, so anything is possible. You can overcome anything, so that’s the mind set I have. It’s not that it is easy to overcome it, but I know I can. There’s light at the end of the tunnel.”

“I think I’ve been racing such a long time that when it comes to getting in the car, it’s very easy to throw up the shield and focus on what you do. I guess when you put the helmet on, you enter into a different zone. I’m just trying to make sure that I’m living my best life every day. No-one can live my life the way that I live it, because it’s my life. We all live it in our own ways.”

“We all have different scenarios, we are all on a different journey, but ultimately our journey is determined by how much you put into it. I’m here to win, I’m here to better myself, to grow. I always end up coming back to a positive mind set. I also have a lot of positive people around me, I don’t surround myself with negativity or negative individuals who suck my energy. All the people with me, my friends, they are generally very positive lights and only make my light brighter.”

On the future of the sport after he leaves one day:

“I think there’s going to be exciting younger drivers coming through. I think my fans might be upset at some stage, naturally that’s normal, but as I am extending with the team, I’m really excited about staying here, and I will continue to stay while I’ve still got that fire. I love this job, and I went out last night to the factory after the photo shoot, when I did the seat fit, I was saying to the guys, it’s been six years, this is crazy, I remember the first seat that we did. As I was leaving the factory, driving away, I was conscious that one day, I will not be doing that anymore, so I really was able to enjoy that moment. I kind of forgot that, and it’s been crazy that I’ve been doing it for so long and I still have that feeling. I think it’s just about appreciating that.”

“I don’t think Formula 1 will suffer, they’ll still continue to grow, obviously with management in place. I like to think that I ‘ve been part of its growth, and even if I stop, I may still be an integral part of the sport. I have exciting things in the pipeline that hopefully will carry on beyond my racing. Things like you’ve seem this year, we’ve got Tommy Hilfiger as our partner. That was through a lot of work with myself, building that relationship with Tommy, and the team were amazing to allow it to happen. That’s some new, exciting blood that’s coming to the team. That’s going to be exciting this year.”

On his social media for this year:

“We had already planned at the end of the year to start a clean slate at the beginning of this year. It just so happened that it was an opportunistic time to change it. I think moving forward, there is a balance you have to strike. I have been very, very open with my life for several years now and it’s always difficult to make a change, because I quite like being open, but we are in very strange times in the world where things are magnified perhaps more than they were in previous years. It’s a critical time for the world, and me personally.”

“I think I’ll continue, like earlier today, to show what I’m doing. I was just in Sweden with the team, with Toto and UBS, and I was showing what I was doing there. I think it’s just being a little bit more strategic in what I do show and don’t show, but I think it’s great. It is again still a gateway to be able to connect with my fans in a way which I’m not able to do on a race weekend so it will continue to be a part of my life. As to how deep I’ll go, we’ll see.”

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