Lewis Hamilton believes he is close to hitting his peak as a Formula 1 driver after a superb start to the 2019 season – and says he is still striving to improve with records in his sights.
Hamilton’s victory at last weekend’s French GP was his sixth of the season and the Englishman is just a dozen wins away from Michael Schumacher’s total of 91, a record that appeared unlikely to be challenged – at least this quickly – just a few years ago.
But Hamilton continues to hunt down the landmark ahead of this weekend’s Austrian GP.
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The Mercedes driver – 36 points clear of Valtteri Bottas in the title race as he looks to add to his five crowns – understandably arrives in a sweltering Spielberg full of confidence, but insists his best is still yet to come.
“I think I’m doing alright but I always feel like I can improve,” Hamilton told Sky F1. “I think last year I got to a really, really good place and then starting back into a new car each year there’s still always a massive hill you have to climb.
“I definitely struggled with understanding these tyres as I do every year, but it’s slowly starting to come towards me and back to where I was towards the end of last year in a really happy, comfortable spot. And I feel like I’m a better driver than I was last year through the experiences that each year brings.
“I’m working towards being in my best place performance wise, and mentally, in my career, but it’s always a work in progress.”
Hamilton could not help but smile when questioned about whether he was under-appreciated in the sport despite his achievements, following Mercedes boss Toto Wolff’s comments that Hamilton is the “greatest driver on the planet” and “is not recognised how he should be recognised”.
“I don’t really care, necessarily…” Hamilton said. “And I don’t mean that in a negative way, everyone has a right to their own opinions.
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“But it doesn’t dictate to me whether I’m doing a good or bad job, I know that and I know how I’m performing and if I’ve got more potential in myself. I’m definitely enjoying driving.”
Hamilton then tried to explain how it has always been difficult to judge F1 drivers compared to other sportsmen.
“It’s a difficult sport for people to have the correct answer for that because there’s only 20 of us who are driving these cars and no one else can really have the privilege of driving the car like we drive the car,” he added.
“I sometimes go and play basketball, get a swoosh and feel like LeBron (James) for a second, or Steph Curry. Or sometimes I play tennis with my dad, and I’m terrible, but if I get it right over the net and in the corner, I feel like Roger Federer.
“You can’t get in a Formula 1 car and do a lap like I did a lap and say, ‘that’s how Lewis did it’. It’s a little bit harder to relate to and to see the nuances and the differences and the edge that we’re in. But there are people that admire it.”
Setting the scene in Austria
Though Mercedes have enjoyed a perfect start to F1 2019 and are closing in on a team record themselves – that of 11 straight victories – Hamilton said the team will be on the “edge of their seats” as they return to the scene of their double DNF from last season.
“It’s very hot, it’s high altitude. There’s only 10 corners the cars are always on the limit,” said Hamilton, with temperatures reaching 35 degrees on Thursday in the Austrian hills.
Hamilton also continued on his comments on France – where he implored Ferrari to “bring some extra downforce” and to “get some speed through the corners so we can start racing each other.”
The Red Bull Ring is a high-speed track, but also features a tight and twisty final sector which may well favour Mercedes.
“Every weekend we’ve arrived it’s been a little bit different,” added Hamilton. “Different challenges from different circuits.
“It was a strong race for us in France, Montreal was a tougher weekend, Monaco was a tougher weekend so it’s been up and down throughout the season, even though we’ve ultimately been able to come out on top.