Formula One: Lewis Hamilton vows to raise level for title defence next year

Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton celebrating with the Union Jack after winning his fourth world title despite finishing ninth in the Mexican Grand Prix on Sunday. He is now joint third on the all-time championship list.
Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton celebrating with the Union Jack after winning his fourth world title despite finishing ninth in the Mexican Grand Prix on Sunday. He is now joint third on the all-time championship list.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Four-time winner ready to take on all comers next year, says he will raise level of campaign

MEXICO CITY • Lewis Hamilton is relishing the battles to come in 2018 as a revived Ferrari, improved McLaren and determined Red Bull seek to foil his bid for a fifth Formula One world title.

The newly-crowned four-time winner made that clear after Sunday's Mexican Grand Prix which Red Bull's Max Verstappen won.

He said: "Formula One doesn't sleep, it doesn't stand still. And there's always someone waiting to take my position. I've got that Max just sitting there waiting to take it. So I've got to raise the game another level in order to stay ahead of him. And that motivates me. "

He was highly motivated by his riveting battle with nearest rival Sebastian Vettel, who hugged and congratulated him personally in the post-race interviews pen.

He said: "It's kind of cool to be in this battle with him. He got 50 poles and I don't want to give him any more because he gets closer to me.

"That's inspiration to keep pushing it - the same with wins, same with championships.

"When I see him sign for another three years with Ferrari and I'm like, 'Ferrari are not going to like me for the next couple of years'. "

THE NEXT YOUNG GUN

He's really the brightest young star that we've seen for some time. I hope that in his early era that I can be a good force and a good battle for him.''

LEWIS HAMILTON, lavishing praise on Mexican GP winner Max Verstappen.

SOFT SPOT FOR FALLEN GIANTS

I really hope for McLaren, who have a special place in my heart, that next year is a better year. Fernando's a tough cookie. I enjoyed the little battle I had with him and I hope we get to have many more like that.''

HAMILTON, on his former team McLaren and former team-mate Fernando Alonso.

Vettel's title challenge ended with him finishing fourth in an "ugly race", when the pair collided at the third corner of the first lap, and both required lengthy pit stops that left them at the back of the field.

Hamilton eventually finished ninth, not the way he had hoped to seal his triumphant season.

'It was a horrible way to do it, to be honest," he said after a run of five wins from his last six races meant he clinched the title with his lowest finish of the season.

But his peers and most paddock observers believed that mattered little. Many have even suggested that he is capable of scaling even greater heights. His age, the consistency of Mercedes and the maturing of his extraordinary raw talent for speed have combined to give him a unique platform, not only to equal Argentinian Juan Manuel Fangio, but also to match German Michael Schumacher's seven titles.

"For me, the halcyon years for a driver are in your mid-30s," said Jackie Stewart, the man Hamilton has surpassed as Britain's most successful F1 driver.

"You have maturity, you still have strength and you are still learning. But you have collected a lot of knowledge, and you are still vibrant and hungry."

Certainly, at the age of 32, Hamilton himself was quick to dismiss any idea that he was considering following his erstwhile team-mate, the 2016 champion Nico Rosberg, into a sudden retirement.

Not when he has the winning numbers to justify his belief that he has more to deliver. Since 2014, he has won 40 races with Mercedes, an average of 10 per season.

"Four is a great number, but I want No. 5 now!" he said during the team's post-race paddock celebrations. "I want to go out at the top. I could do the easy thing, like Nico, but there's more in me.

"There's harder times ahead - and I love that. That's challenging and it would be so boring without it."

In keeping with his high-speed lifestyle, he took a private jet from Mexico to Miami for a nightclub party with friends and family.

His individuality and willingness to be different have proved to be a strength, according to another former champion, Briton Damon Hill.

"I think he's got an artistic temperament - he's not a heavyweight slugger. He's someone who, when he feels good, knows his talent can come out," he explained. "He has work-life balance... so he can come to the sport and do his job, and it doesn't consume him."

Hamilton himself defended his lifestyle, saying: "Doing something different that helps you stand out, that really highlights your individuality. It's really important and that's really something I'm working on."

He also defended his 2017 title, saying it had been much tougher to win than many observers believed.

He said: "This is a championship which I've been hoping for - a little bit like 2008, where you're fighting another team, this historic team, which Michael (Schumacher) raced for and won championships in.

"That's how every championship needs to be, and I hope there's more championships like this one."

He dismissed the theory that he won because he had the best car.

"People have written that we've had the best car, but I don't believe we've had the best car," he said. "We've been the best team. We've done the best job, but there have been times when we've not had the best car."

Indeed the fight looked to go to the wire, only for Vettel's hopes to disappear with two DNFs (did not finish) at Singapore and Japan, and a fourth placing in Malaysia.

Said Vettel: "I don't fear him. I like racing against him and I just wish I could have done more of it this year."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2017, with the headline 'Champion par excellence'. Print Edition | Subscribe