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Lewis Hamilton: “It’s kind of damage limitation for me…”

Lewis Hamilton says second place in Spain was “damage limitation” after a poor start and a bad first pit stop combined to make his afternoon a difficult one.

From second on the grid Hamilton slipped behind Sebastian Vettel at the start, and then his chance of getting past the Ferrari at the first stops was ruined when a delay with the left rear wheel cost three seconds. He eventually had to use a three-stop strategy to find a way past, although it was too late to challenge leader Nico Rosberg.

Obviously I had quite a poor start,” he said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve had such a poor start. I tried my best to recover – I nearly dropped back to fourth at the start so I was very fortunate to keep third – and then it was just trying to fight… Unfortunately, this track isn’t very good for overtaking.

Actually it’s the worst for overtaking. It’s impossible to follow here, which is a shame. It doesn’t matter what you do, you cannot get close enough even with the DRS, which is a shame.

Nonetheless, I did everything I could behind Sebastian and did enough, I think, in the first stint but then I had a very long pit stop and then had to kind of do it all again. But fortunately towards the end it was enough to get it done on a three-stopper, I was able to get by. If I was behind him in traffic I wouldn’t have got past. I’m grateful I could gain those points for the team and it’s kind of damage limitation for me, so it’s not bad.”

Hamilton admitted it hadn’t been easy to get the car right this weekend.

You can’t change the car in qualifying but throughout practice I was tinkering, trying to get it ready for qualifying and ultimately it wasn’t ideal. It wasn’t bad in the race but yeah, today was a very very tough day, obviously, because I had to make up from the bad start and perhaps my true pace… I wasn’t really able to show it compared to Nico, as I was further behind.”

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Lewis Hamilton: “I’m going to have my work cut out…”

Having qualified on pole in Bahrain Lewis Hamilton is hopeful that the Mercedes will be better on its tyres in Sunday’s race than it appeared to be in practice on Friday, when Ferrari had a clear edge on long runs.

The team made changes for today but the hot afternoon FP3 session was not representative, so the true test will only come in the race itself.

“There were a lot of small things that we changed overnight in the hope that they will make the tyres last a little bit better,” he said tonight. “The tyres are lasting fine, it’s just actually pure pace, so it’s getting more from the tyres. I was saying that in Malaysia we thought we were going to be ahead, and we ended up behind, then in the last race we thought they were going to be much stronger in the race, and they were no problem in the race… for me. But then tomorrow it appears that they are going to be strong. I don’t know which way it’s going to go, but I hope it’s the way I hope it’s going to go.”

Asked whether Sebastian Vettel or Nico Rosberg would be the biggest threat tomorrow he said: “Your biggest rival is always the guy that’s closest to you. When you go into a race your first concern is the one that’s closest to you. Even more so Sebastian because it appears that they were quicker on their long runs than we were. So I know that I’m going to have my work cut out while trying to stay ahead whilst looking after the tyres and making them go the distance.

“I don’t know how much he’s going to be on my tail. We might get round the first corner and it might be cool to be able to control it from then. In Malaysia each time I was kind of having to up the pace and he’d got an answer every time I did that. So I guess I won’t know until I get round the first couple of corners tomorrow.”

He also admitted that he doesn’t yet know where he might have an advantage over the Ferrari.

“To be honest I have no idea where their strengths are in terms of being on the track and seeing it. I’ve never really been behind them or with him to really know. The one little bit was at the end of one of the stints in Malaysia where he pitted and I came up the inside. So they’ve obviously got power on the straights. But otherwise I’ve not witnessed where the weak areas are of the car. But I would imagine they are probably comparable, both cars, in certain areas. Maybe tomorrow we’ll find out.”

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New Hamilton contract “just needs to get signed” says Lauda

Niki Lauda says he is not concerned that Lewis Hamilton has yet to sign his new Mercedes contract for 2016 and beyond, and insists that the deal really is done and dusted.

The saga of when Hamilton’s deal might be formalised and announced has been dragging on since late last season.

“It’s all going in the right pace,” Lauda told this writer. “There’s nothing wrong. It is basically sorted out, no more discussions. It is sorted out. It just needs to get signed.

“For me it’s out of the way because it’s done. An announcement, I don’t care. There’s nothing to worry about.”

Lauda dismissed suggestions in the German media to the effect that Hamilton might now be eyeing up Ferrari: “No, he can’t. We all agreed he’s driving, he agreed, we agreed, that’s it. Simple.”

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Lewis Hamilton: “The Ferraris look great, they really do…”

Lewis Hamilton finished Friday on top of the times at Sepang, but it was a far from easy day for the Mercedes driver.

Hamilton stopped on track in FP1 with what turned out to be an inlet issue, and by the time it was addressed he had missed the first half of FP2. He also suffered with telemetry issues in both sessions which further restricted his lappery.

“Firstly it was just an amazing job done by my guys to rebuild the car and get the engine back on, and gearbox and everything, and get me back out,” said Hamilton. “I’m very grateful for that. Particularly here where it’s so hot it’s so difficult for the tyres and everything, it was really important to get back out and do some laps.”

He added that the lost track time was costly: “It affects you quite a bit. Fortunately I got a few laps of a longer run at the end, but in terms of my set-up I’ve not made any changes, so I’ve just driven what I have. It’s quite a bit off with where I probably need it.

“I know my lap wasn’t spectacular. As I said I think I’ve got some improvements I can make with the balance and the settings, they were all kind of brought from the last race. I’m sure we’ll tweak it and improve it a little bit.”

Meanwhile Hamilton admitted he was impressed by the main competition.

“The Ferraris look great, they really do. It’s surprising to see how good their times are. We’ll see whether that continues through the weekend.”

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Red Bull’s call to rein in Mercedes is “funny,” says Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton said today that he finds Red Bull’s call for the FIA to rein in Mercedes as “funny” – given the success that RBR had in previous years.

Hamilton is adamant that Mercedes has worked hard to get where it is today.

“I find it quite funny,” he said when asked by this writer about Christian Horner’s comments. “It’s an interesting opinion coming from individuals who have had so much success. Also it’s only been one race, so to already have comments after the first race is what I find funny.

“And then on the personal side it was a big step for me to come to this team that had had so many years of poor performance – they hadn’t had the success of other teams. Not once did this team ever complain to others in order to equalise things, they just worked their arses off. We came to this team and saw them making that progress, and now they’re the best team, we’ve pulled together and done an amazing job.

“It’s not just me here it’s more than a thousand people working back at the two factories to build the best car, and we’ve done that with the same rules and the same resources that the other top teams have generally had. I’m really very proud of that. I think it’s kind of a funny situation.”

Hamilton is confident that Mercedes can stay ahead as this season unfolds: “With my understanding of the rules and how F1 is, and knowing how limited your time is in the wind tunnel and development, we all have that same amount of time. Providing we push forward thr same speed as everyone else, we should stay ahead. I believe the team will do that. Of course we never knew what others were going to do coming into the season, we didn’t know how much improvement others would have done.

“But we’re obviously very pleased with the work the team has done – obviously we were pretty competitive last year, and to still make an improvement on top of that is pretty exceptional. It’s a true showing of how amazing this team is now. If these people stay in the same place, and the right philosophy is taken, this team will be strong for many, many years.”

Meanwhile Lewis is hoping that he can keep up his Australian GP form.

“It’s only one qualifying session and Nico didn’t get his qualifying session right. I’m happy that I was able to perform that way and I plan to keep performing in that way. It still wasn’t perfect and I can improve, and with the race I think it just continued generally what I was doing for. There’s not really much progress – it’s small increments.

“I think Nico will be quick this weekend and he’ll be pushing as hard as he always did last year in qualifying. I’ve just got to try and keep up the momentum from the last race if I can.”

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Rosberg gremlins leave bitter sweet feeling, says Wolff

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff says it’s a relief that the World Championship has been resolved after the tensions involved in managing an intra-team battle – while emphasising his disappointment that technical gremlins once again cropped up in Nico Rosberg’s car.

“First of all it’s a relief now,” he said. “Although we knew that we’d won the driver’s championship before, we knew that it was going to be a challenge in staying neutral, and balancing out between the drivers. For us it was a particular challenge, so now that it’s over, it’s a relief.

“But then there is also a bitter sweet feeling left. Lewis Hamilton won 11 races, he deserved to be World Champion, he had a really incredible season. He had downs, and many ups, and at the end he’s a worthy World Champion.

“The bitter part is we worked so hard in such a diligent way to make the car reliable to enable the boys to fight it out on track, and that we had the problem with Nico’s car is something which gives it a bitter taste, and I feel that we let him down a little bit. In hindsight you can say from a rational point of view at that stage it was already difficult to make it after he had that start.

“Nico not finishing for us is a personal drama, because we expected to give them two cars which made it to the end. Lewis not finishing, being in the lead of the championship and being in the lead of the race, would have been an even bigger drama. Nevertheless it doesn’t make it any more acceptable to see Nico’s car break down.”

Regarding the Hamilton/Rosberg relationship he said: “It will re-set a little bit over the winter and at the beginning of the season, before it gets competitive. It is very clear that if your team mate, the one in the same car, is your biggest competitor, your biggest enemy, that it’s getting tense.

“I have no doubt that we will have similar situations and similar challenges next year again between the two. Anything else wouldn’t be normal. It’s just that we maintain it on the current levels of professionalism and respect.”

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Lewis Hamilton: “Nico wasn’t defending there really…”

Lewis Hamilton took a step closer to securing the 2014 World Championship with his fifth straight victory at Austin, giving himself a 24-point lead over team mate Nico Rosberg.

Thanks to double points the title battle will now go own to the wire in Abu Dhabi as even a victory in Brazil with Rosberg failing to score would leave him only 49 points ahead.

“It’s been an incredible run,” said Hamilton. “This whole season has been incredible really. Just an unbelievable job done by the team. Nico was very quick in qualifying yesterday. Obviously I said I had a couple of problems and I corrected them today and, never know how the race is going to go but I pushed as hard as I could, particularly in the first stint. And the second stint I seemed to be even quicker on that stint. Once I got past Nico it was really just about controlling it. Coming here today, just having that same determination and hunger to get that win. And, as I said, there’s not a better crowd really to do that in front of.”

Hamilton’s move on Rosberg was the key to his win: “It’s obviously a very good circuit to be able to follow but it’s not easy and it was very hard through the middle sector to try to stay as close to him as possible and get as close as I could to the DRS zone. And I was quite a bit back, I would say, but I felt very confident, there was a big headwind into 12, and I just felt like I was waiting for the moment really, to just be just close enough to throw it up the inside. And that’s what I did.

“You have to decide how much of a risk you’re willing to take. Nico wasn’t defending there really so I almost caught him unaware. And after that, really I was just trying to maintain it.”

Lewis said he really enjoyed his week in the USA: “I just went into the race with the belief that I could win it. Incredible support from my fans, even from when I was in New York this week. The support from my fans and the tons of flags out there and team tops and team caps, I really am so grateful for that support that I have here in the US. It’s amazing. I hope it continues to grow over the years. Great weather, the circuit’s just fantastic. I went into the race thinking I need another race just like 2012 and it was just like that.

“I was catching him through exactly the same points at which I was catching Sebastian. There wasn’t a moment in the race when I didn’t think that I would get him. Once I was past, as I said, I was able to relax for a second and really try to manage the tyres, because I knew that perhaps he would push at some other point. And so I was always having to respond. It’s such a great feeling when you have a race like that, it just feels great that you’ve really done it as best as you can.”

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Lewis Hamilton: “I guess I’ll get a better feel in the race…”

Lewis Hamilton was 0.003s faster than team mate Nico Rosberg in practice in Austin today, but it was not a perfect day for the championship leader.

Hamilton was forced to sit out the last part of FP2 after suffering a hydraulic leak, yet another sign of a reliability problems at Mercedes.

“They just said there was some fluid on the floor,” said Hamilton. “There was a leak of some sort, I don’t think it was anything too concerning. It doesn’t help when you lose a little bit of time on the long run, because you get a real good understanding of how much you can push, how much you have to save fuel, and those kinds of things.

“Nico had the whole session and hopefully in terms of the team we’ll learn in terms of the team and understanding the data and everything. For me I guess I’ll get a better feel in the race…”

Meanwhile Mercedes technical chief Paddy Lowe said: “It was a hydraulic issue, quite a small thing. We don’t know exactly what, but we made a precautionary stop. We had two or three things going on at the same time. Reliability is a really important factor in the championship overall, and it’s becoming particularly pointy at the moment with the two drivers heading towards Abu Dhabi, It’s a big challenge for us to make sure we give them sisx car finishes in the next three races.”

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Lewis Hamilton: “I just chose not to do the lap…”

Lewis Hamilton admitted it was his own fault after he abandoned his final qualifying lap at Silverstone – and saw his pole position turn into sixth place as five other drivers finished their laps and went faster.

Hamilton crossed the line to start the lap just in front of team mate Nico Rosberg, but feeling that the lap would be slower, he chose to abort it, and let his team mate through.

However the final sector proved to be much drier than anyone had anticipated, and those who completed the lap gained huge chunks of time.

“It just didn’t feel good, there’s no other reason for it,” said Lewis. “I lost a lot of time at the beginning of the lap, I was already one and a half seconds down.

“I’ve never in my life ever given up, and today it wasn’t a case of giving up, I just chose not to do the lap, because it wasn’t feeling right, it wasn’t feeling like it was going to be quicker. I had no information from the team that the last sector was going to be 4.5-5s faster. From driving through it I thought that it wasn’t, so I took that decision.”

Asked whether his engineers – who had no sector time data on which to draw – should have kept him better informed, he said: “I don’t really remember much radio communication, I do remember them saying something about Nico, not holding him up.

“It wasn’t their fault. I should have done that [carried on]. But I didn’t, that’s that, move on, move forward. A long race tomorrow, so I’ll try to salvage what I can from it.”

Hamilton expects to have a tough time gaining ground on Sunday.

“I feel tomorrow is going to be damage limitation again. We’ve got over 100,000 people here tomorrow, and hopefully they’ll energise me. I’ve got a lot of Mercedes cars ahead, which are going to be very hard to overtake, it’s not going to be as easy as it was in the last race. And also conditions could be up and down tomorrow. Anything’s possible here, as we’ve seen in the past.”

Asked by this writer if his Austrian first lap gave him some inspiration he said: “Not really. I’ve done a hundred or so Grands Prix, and that was the only one of probably three very good first laps for me. But what it did show was that it’s possible, so I’ll try and do the same again.”

However, he made it clear that Rosberg has the upper hand after Lewis lost priceless track time in FP2: “Nico had a long run yesterday so he knows where the car is for the heavy fuel load, and also he’s got a nice, clean sweep of air in front of him, so I would imagine Nico will be sailing off into the distance. I’ve got to wiggle my way through the guys in front first, and that’s really my main focus.”

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Toto Wolff: “We have to stay with both feet on the ground…”

Mercedes F1 chief Toto Wolff insists that the team has to keep its feet on the ground despite its flying start to the season.

Wolff pointed to the fact that Nico Rosberg had to work hard to get up to second place in China after dropping as low as seventh on the first lap.

“It was not easy in the first stint, in terms of performance, the cars were different,” said Wolff when asked by this writer. “Nico lost the telemetry before the formation lap, so you’re basically blind in the car. The way he handled the situation was really good. In the first stint it wasn’t easy for him to overtake cars, and he was following Ricciardo, and there was just no way even on the straight to get past him.

“It just shows you need to get things right, and you have to qualify well. Then at the end strategy-wise we took the right decisions. We were pushing the second stint quite long because we knew that at the end he had to manage the tyres, and this is I guess why Alonso had to back off at a certain stage, because he knew he was not going to finish the race on that pace.”

Regarding the opposition, he said: “We have to be cautious. They’re coming, you saw Alonso today, you saw Ricciardo, last stint again times to our cars. It is quite interesting because what you saw also in the last couple of races that you have situations in the race on worn tyres where suddenly the times seem to be much more closed up.

“As I mentioned Ricciardo was matching Lewis’s times and Nico’s times. In the second stint it wasn’t the case, Lewis was holding but Nico was struggling behind Ricciardo. So we have to find out the way our competitors supply the energy and how the efficiency and fuel consumption works, because it looks like sometimes they go faster and then they don’t seem to manage it until the end of the race.”

Wolf admits the start to the season was better than expected, despite the clear hints from testing.

“Yes it is better. I think you cannot go into a season with these new regulations and think we’re going to make four wins in a row. And I guess that also in a couple of years we’ll look back at the statistics and say, wow, that was a run. You can’t take it for granted. You spot yourself looking… We have one car leading and the other car is fifth or sixth, and you say that’s not good. We have to stay with both feet on the ground and keep the development curve steep and keep pushing, because no doubt it’s going to close up.”

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