Race, not the party, is Lewis Hamilton's focus

Briton dismisses 1,000th-race celebration with Mercedes facing threats from Ferrari

SHANGHAI • Lewis Hamilton is in no mood for any distractions from the defence of his title, even as Formula One prepares to celebrate the 1,000th world championship race at the Chinese Grand Prix.

The five-time world champion has competed in almost a quarter of F1's 999 races and, from those 231 starts, he has enjoyed remarkable success, with his 74 wins ranking second only to racing great Michael Schumacher.

But, as F1 prepares for its party in Shanghai, Hamilton claimed the day would be "absolutely no different to any other race weekend for me", with his focus solely on delivering another title for Mercedes.

He said: "I am not one for birthdays, I'm not one for anniversaries, I'm not one for particularly special days like this.

"I am here to do one job, and one job only, and that is to win. It doesn't matter if it is the 1,000th, the 2,000th or the 10,000th (race), it is an irrelevant figure for me."

It is not an entirely unsurprising response from the 34-year-old, who has always been strong in his ability to blank out distractions, if not perhaps the one F1 might have been hoping for from their most marketable asset.

However, he knows that the threat from Ferrari is real this season, hence his reluctance to indulge in the festivities.

The Scuderia, so strong in testing, were off the pace at the opening grand prix in Australia, where Hamilton was second to teammate Valtteri Bottas.

But, at the second race in Bahrain, Ferrari definitively found their pace, and Hamilton is aware he only inherited his win there after an injection system fault scuppered Charles Leclerc's dominant lead.

Admitting "they obviously have a great package", the Briton added: "You could say (they have) a stronger package than last year. They have definitively stepped up."

At Ferrari, the question is not only if they can replicate the Bahrain performance in China, but whether Leclerc will again comprehensively outshine four-time champion Sebastian Vettel, who struggled to fifth place in the last race.

The team have said they would favour the latter under certain circumstances, but the Monegasque clearly has no intention of being sidelined after ignoring orders to pass his teammate in the last race.

But the German has insisted he is enjoying his relationship with the 21-year-old, 10 years his junior, who is racing in only his second season in F1.

Vettel said: "Charles is fast, he has proven many times before F1 why he has deserved the place. I can do better and we have lots of races to prove that but, at least when I am not at the top, it's good that he is."

If Ferrari find the sweet spot again in Shanghai, Leclerc will have every chance for a debut win.

Separately, former commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone, who confirmed he will not be in Shanghai, has questioned if China is really the 1,000th F1 race before warning that the sport "will suffer" from the rise of Formula E, the electric car racing series, as it is getting "much bigger and better".

REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 12, 2019, with the headline 'Race, not the party, is Hamilton's focus'. Print Edition | Subscribe