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(BBC SPORT) Lewis Hamilton says the controversial end to last year’s title fight made him consider his future but he does not want it to define his career.
The Mercedes driver lost out on an eighth world title in controversial circumstances at last year’s final race in Abu Dhabi. “There was a moment when I lost a little bit of faith in the system,” said Hamilton.
“But I am generally a very determined person. “And while moments like this might define careers, I refuse to let this define mine.” Hamilton was leading in Abu Dhabi and on course for a record eighth world title when race director Michael Masi failed to operate the rules correctly during a late safety-car period.
That resulted in Hamilton being passed by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen on one final lap of racing after a restart. The FIA has conducted an inquiry into what happened and on Thursday announced a series of changes to address it – including removing Masi as race director. Hamilton said he had retreated to the comfort of his family as he sought to process what had happened.
“I never said I was going to stop,” he said. “But it was a difficult time for me and I really needed to step back. “It was a time where I really needed to step back, focus on being present. I had my family all around me creating great moments.
“Eventually I got to a point where I decided I was going to be attacking again coming into another season.”
Reaction to FIA changes
Hamilton welcomed the FIA’s moves, but added that they had to be converted into concrete actions. “It’s good to see the FIA are making changes,” he said. “Accountability is key. We have to use this moment to make sure this never happens to anyone ever again. “We have to make sure we are seeing those changes, and (that) rules are applied fairly, and accurate and consistently.”
He said he did not bear any ill feelings towards Verstappen. “This has nothing to do with Max,” he said. “Max did everything a driver would do given the opportunity he was given. “He’s a great competitor and we will go into another battle like we did last year and we will grow from our races and experiences we had last year.
“I don’t hold any grudges with anyone. That is never a good thing to carry around with you. I move forward. I don’t dwell on the past.” He admitted that it was “still difficult to fully understand everything” that happened in Abu Dhabi, but said he wanted “to come back stronger”. “Through these experiences, you can turn these emotions into power and strength and that’s what I’m doing,” he said.
“If you think what you saw at the end of last year was my best, wait till you see this year.”
What did Mercedes say?
Team principal Toto Wolff told BBC Radio 5 Live that Abu Dhabi was “in the past” but admitted: “It’s not something we will ever in a way recover from.” He denied that Masi’s removal was a condition for Hamilton’s return and said he was never worried the 37-year-old would quit. “I have known Lewis for such a long time and I wasn’t (worried),” he said. “But obviously this has had such an impact on him when everything about it was about fairness and justice and when that happens to you it is quite difficult to, I understand, to cope with that.”
Wolff added at the car launch that the FIA had taken “the right steps” to address the failures in Abu Dhabi.
A new team-mate
Hamilton is joined at Mercedes this year by fellow Briton George Russell, one of the brightest rising stars of the new generation of drivers. The seven-time world champion said Russell “fits like a glove” at Mercedes, where he has been a protege since 2016. “It’s surreal,” said Russell, who spent the first three years of his career at Williams.
“We’ve all seen the photo of me and Lewis when I was 10 years old. We have both changed quite a lot since then. It’s incredible to see.
“I was a young kid aspiring to reach F1 and he was world champion at the time, he was a superhero to me. You see these incredible people and you don’t think they’re human. “Having the opportunity to race alongside Lewis is a real privilege for me. I have such a great opportunity to see how the best do it.” Wolff said he expected a tough battle between Hamilton and Russell but said he expected it would be conducted in good spirit. “You want to have the two best possible drivers,” he said. “But we’ve seen that in the past we’ve handled it. The two guys have great personalities and I have no doubt that sometimes it will not be easy but that’s the name of the game.”
What about the car?
Like all 2022 cars, the new Mercedes W13 has been designed to comply with revolutionary new regulations aimed at making the racing closer and more competitive.
The car features very tightly packed bodywork, on which significant effort has clearly been made on securing the best possible airflow. There is also an upgraded engine for the start of a four-year engine freeze in F1. Mercedes have reverted to their traditional silver after two years of a black livery in support of diversity.
The new livery blends some black elements with the predominant silver, which the team said reflected its “clear mission to become a more diverse and inclusive team”, including a commitment that at least 25% of all new recruits until 2025 will be from under-represented groups. That figure was 38% in 2021, Mercedes said.
“The hopes are we will have a competitive car,” Wolff said. “We don’t know whether we are even in the hunt for another title.” Hamilton said: “I haven’t really set any goals initially. Naturally everyone is working towards the ultimate goal of winning the championship and the target of doing something we have never done before. We’ve done eight, now it’s time to move on to the next one.” Despite the strong winds associated with Storm Eunice, both drivers are due to test the car for the first time in a so-called shakedown at Silverstone on Friday, with Russell trying it first, before Hamilton.