Lewis Hamilton admitted he had been a frustrated man for much of the year. In the spring and summer, he seemed to play only in a supporting role to teammate Valtteri Bottas, dominating only the early stages of the championship race. Hamilton then passed Bottas and felt disconcerted by the aging Vettel, Mercedes’ arch-rivals from Ferrari, and the risks. “I probably took it for granted, you know, I was able to come out on top, which meant I still got congratulated, so it’s good,” he said. “I went through a phase this year, probably in the first half, that was hard, and it was hard for my team, too. I had no idea what I was doing, to be quite honest, and everything else was not working.”
The 33-year-old Hamilton, who has dominated the world of motorsport in the decade and a half since winning his first world title for McLaren in 2008, could not hide his contempt for the well-oiled machine known as Red Bull Racing. There were snarls and bits of aggression from Hamilton at times and there was a tense battle for the championship throughout the Mercedes team’s demonstration from Silverstone to Hungary.
“I have tried to be gracious throughout the season but I’ve had a few things I wanted to say,” he said. “I did not see Red Bull getting it right all season and that’s what frustrated me more than anything else. I was glad to be close enough to them, maybe occasionally I talked to Sebastian about things but I never saw them getting it right. I got so close to them.
“I was winning two races, not winning one and I thought, alright, what do I do now? The circuit is not perfect for them and I’m not perfect either. I thought, let’s go away for a bit and refresh and work on it. I gave it a go. We went back to London and spoke a few times and I said, look, just understand this.
“I understood the data and I understood where Red Bull were. Their testing time was less than mine. There are different locations, there are different body structures and the way they drive. We got to the point at Montreal where Valtteri started to beat me, so I had to go back to the drawing board and try to go back to what we were good at. I had to simplify things.
“We tried three times to race them, gave the best example in Azerbaijan. We could not keep it together. That went from being as close as we were to something that was more disappointing. I do not blame the team for everything I did all year.”
The last time Hamilton brought his Red Bull title challenger to a virtual standstill by winning the final four races of the season in Australia, Bahrain, Canada and Texas the angry reaction of the paddock to Hamilton’s victory was so effusive and concentrated that the episode would bring an end to its association with the British driver.
“It is a different era now,” he said. “It has never been at this level. There was a whole different element to it. There was a lot of ‘I didn’t like him’ or, ‘I did not get the Seb reaction.’ This time there’s a much more fine line and it has been a completely different year.
“This is a different era but we are better than that and I think we have learned as a team how to not offend anyone else. I don’t feel like we have not given Valtteri everything. We give him everything and we expect him to deliver. I have been a bit challenged with the fight this year but I have to do what I’ve always done. I have walked this sport alone and tried to do my best, and I’ve succeeded and I’ve learned and have found myself a family now. And I am really close to the team, and so I am really enjoying it.”