LEWIS Hamilton has revealed he was determined not to allow his high-profile split from Nicole Scherzinger to scupper his chances of becoming the first British driver to win back-to-back Formula One world championships.
Hamilton ended his long-term relationship with the American pop star ahead of the new season, and it was feared the 30-year-old’s off-track upsets would disrupt the defence of his title.
But the reigning champion heads into tomorrow’s British Grand Prix holding a 10-point lead over Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg. He has started from pole at seven of the eight races and led a greater number of laps than any other driver this term. Should Hamilton complete one more front-running lap at Silverstone on Sunday, he will surpass Sir Jackie Stewart’s 45-year record of leading 17 consecutive grands prix.
“I don’t really know how I’ve done it,” revealed a reflective Hamilton prior to his home race. “It’s not that it’s been easy. It was very, very tough in that period of time and I think I’ve just tried to keep my head down.
“I was just determined not to let it get in the way of what I’m here to do, which is win races and championships. I understood the opportunity that was ahead of me and I just did everything that I could to stay on it. It’s been wobbly, but I’m grateful that I’ve stayed on course.”
Hamilton, who turned 30 at the beginning of the year, appears to be more comfortable in his own skin than in previous seasons.
The way he conducted himself after the Monaco Grand Prix earlier this term was in stark contrast to his response here 12 months ago, when he cut a surly figure after qualifying only sixth following a driver error.
“I think still today people don’t fully understand me,” Hamilton added. “Muhammad Ali would not have told you that he was happy coming second, or losing. I don’t think anyone at the top of their game would ever say that. Some people take it worse than others.”
Hamilton was on course to claim his first victory in Monaco since 2008, but was inexplicably called into the pits for a fresh set of tyres in the closing stages. He lost the lead and finished third. On the slow-down lap, Hamilton stopped at Portier. His idol Ayrton Senna famously threw away a race win at the same point in 1988 before leaping out of his McLaren and storming back to his nearby apartment.
“I don’t know why I stopped, but I know I stopped and drove very slowly afterwards just to gather my thoughts,” Hamilton added. “It was hard beyond belief. It was definitely the hardest moment for me that I can recall.
“I’m very strong in my faith and I stopped and prayed about it.”
Hamilton added: “It’s a powerful moment to be able to send a strong message to people, that no matter what’s thrown at you, you can get by. That was really the ultimate test for me. If I lost my temper, you guys would have given me the worst time.
“I’ve got kids that look up to me nowadays and the way I behave will affect how those kids perhaps will behave at school or when they’re driving, or whatever that may be.
“So there’s bigger fish to fry. There’s a more important message. Don’t be selfish for that single moment and be acting up.”
Silverstone chiefs are expecting a record 140,000 crowd tomorrow, with the vast majority of those hoping Hamilton records a second win is as many years. On the two previous occasions Hamilton has triumphed at Silverstone he has gone on to claim the title.
“I think my performances have been stronger this year, and what I want is to continue with that, if not grow and improve,” Hamilton, who saw Rosberg top the timesheets in both practice sessions on Friday, added.
“As you go through the year, your cards are shown from race to race. You’re learning from one another. So it’s about coming up with the next ace. How do you come up with it? How do you find the next ace? How do you find that bit of time another one might not find during that weekend?
“That’s the name of the game. That’s why I have two world championships and the success I’ve had through my career, because I always manage to find it somewhere.”
On the track yesterday, Rosberg overcame a hydraulic failure in the opening practice session for the British Grand Prix to lay down a title marker to Hamilton. Rosberg spent much of the 90-minute session watching with headphones on from the back of the Mercedes garage after his car stopped on track with only five laps under his belt.
But the German made it back out on to the track with a little under 10 minutes remaining after Mercedes successfully changed his gearbox. He posted a best lap of one minute 34.274 seconds to finish less than a tenth of a second faster than Hamilton.
The Briton, who emerged unscathed from a high-speed spin on the exit of Stowe moments before Rosberg stopped, had spent much of the session leading the way before his fastest time of 1min 34.344secs was pipped by Rosberg.
Max Verstappen, the impressive 17-year-old, was third in his Toro Rosso with Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen in fourth. Verstappen’s team-mate Carlos Sainz was next up, and Sebastian Vettel, celebrating his 28th birthday on Friday, was sixth fastest.
Fernando Alonso’s fortunes weren’t so good. The double world champion failed to post a lap in the first hour before ending the session one place higher than team-mate jenson Button’s in 17th, almost four seconds adrift of Rosberg. Susie Wolff, the Williams reserve driver, was 13th, the best part of three seconds off the leading pace. Fellow Briton Jolyon Palmer was 14th in his Lotus as he deputised for Romain Grosjean while Manor driver Will Stevens was 19th.