Lewis Hamilton hungry for F1 return after title heartbreak

LEWIS Hamilton said Friday he was ready to attack the new Formula One season after getting over a “difficult time” following the traumatic end to his 2021 world championship campaign.

The British driver, 37, was speaking for the first time since he lost the championship in controversial circumstances to Max Verstappen in Abu Dhabi on December 12.

Hamilton was poised to capture a record-breaking eighth world title at the season finale before a controversial safety car restart allowed Dutch driver Verstappen to pass his British rival on the last lap.

The seven-time world champion was disillusioned following his defeat and, at one stage, it was unclear if he would return to the grid.

But Hamilton, speaking at the launch of the Mercedes car for the 2022 season and a day after Michael Masi was removed as F1 race director said he was still hungry for more success.

“I never ever said I was going to stop,” he insisted.

“I love doing what I do, and it is such a privilege working with this large group of people and you feel like you are part of a family. There is nothing quite like it.”

Hamilton said the race at Yas Marina was “manipulated” after Masi’s decision to allow the race to restart, which ultimately handed Verstappen the chance to win the title.

Reflecting on the moments after the race, Hamilton, who appeared alongside new team-mate George Russell and team boss Toto Wolff, added: “It was a difficult time for me and a time where I needed to take a step back and focus on the present.

“I had my family all around me and creating great memories.

“I eventually got to a point where I decided I would be attacking again coming into another season and working with Toto and George.”

‘Exciting times’

Mercedes have reverted from black installed for the past two seasons in the fight against racism to their traditional silver colours for the new campaign.

“It is probably one of the most exciting times,” added Hamilton. “It feels like the first (launch) again.

“It is very surreal to think I have been with Mercedes for 10 years.

“Seeing George have his seat fit at the factory was reminiscent of when I had my first seat fit with Mercedes in 2013. The journey we have been on since is absolutely phenomenal.

“Going into this year, I have not really set any goals. Every individual within this team has worked towards the ultimate goal of winning the world championship and raising the bar and doing something that has not been done before.”

Wolff said earlier on Friday that he was never concerned that Hamilton would quit Formula One.

“No, I was never worried although you have to respect the driver is disillusioned after such an event,” he told the BBC.

“But we have a strong team and great support so I knew he was going to come back.

“We all were disillusioned because the stopwatch never lies and Lewis was clearly the best guy on track in Abu Dhabi, dominating the race, and then it is taken away by a single individual against all the rules so to digest that is very difficult.

“Like all of us, there was an initial shock. We have never seen anything like that so he had to walk away, and free his mind and think about something else, and start to work on those events and find a solution.”

Masi, who was heavily criticised for the sequence of events that led to Verstappen passing Hamilton, will be offered a new position within the governing body, the FIA.

The Australian found himself in the line of fire after calling in the safety car for the final lap and controversially allowing the backmarkers between race leader Hamilton and Verstappen to unlap themselves.

That led to a one-lap shoot-out between Hamilton and Verstappen, who with fresh tyres had a huge advantage and he exploited it to stunning effect when he picked Hamilton off to seal the title.

(AFP)