Q&A with Lewis Hamilton
Testing the McLaren Mercedes MP4-23 in the damp conditions in Spain this week and like team-mate Heikki Kovalainen and many of his rivals, Lewis Hamilton has so far found the experience of driving a modern F1 car on the limit without driver aids an enjoyable experience, even though he ends up in the pea gravel a lot.
How did testing go today?
"I am quite happy with it. I think today was a bit of a difficult day, the weather wasn’t great, which is a bit unusual for Spain. But despite that, we had a good day."
What about the traction control, do you find it dangerous in the wet without it?
"No, its just fun."
Who are the people to beat this year?
"I think it will be the same as last year. It is difficult to say who is quick and who is not right now. We don’t know what everyone is doing, light runs, heavy runs. As always we won’t see until we get to the first race."
What have the you been working on today?
"I am getting used to having no traction control, and also managing the tires and developing the car."
How do you think the start of the races will be without electronics?
"I think from the look of the practice starts we are doing at the moment, we seem to get off the line quite well. It is the second part of the process where you can have some wheel spin, but I don’t see it slowing us down."
How is your relationship with Heikki?
"It is good, we have had a friendship for maybe four or five years already, so it couldn’t be better."
How did you feel about the wet conditions this morning?
"It was the first time I have driven in these conditions without traction control and you have to just take it step by step and try to build up to it, because it is slippery. It is even harder without traction control, it really does make it a little bit nervous on corner entry and you just have to deal with it. You have a lot less engine braking, which makes a difference to how you brake and approach the corners. I think times will be similar, but it is a lot more tricky and probably easier to make mistakes."
Is it the lack of traction control or engine braking that has the greatest impact?
"Probably traction control, without it driving is more natural but there is so much power. We as a team, and actually I am sure all the teams, are working hard to understand how to use the power better."
We have had about a week since the launch, how are things progressing?
"I’ve had two and a half days in the car and we got off to a really good start. Compared to last year the first few tests have been a big improvement, to see the reliability of the car already. It is great for the team and shows how hard they have been working. We are moving in the right direction, we just need to keep chipping away."
Is the MP4-23 a big improvement on last year?
"It will be. The car is an evolution of the MP4-22, so it feels very similar. Already different bits feel better and I am sure over the next few weeks it will just get better and better and keep improving."
Compared to this time last year, do you feel better prepared for the season?
"A lot, I know what I need, I know how much I have to train, how many days of testing I need to do. I am fitter now than I was this time last year. Going into the races, I know the tracks and it makes it a little bit easier. It is still a big, big challenge for me and the team."
From last year, are you leading the team more in testing?
"I think we share the responsibility quite equally throughout the team, between Heikki, Pedro, Gary and myself. Although our driving styles are not all the same, we all have our own input and it seems to be working quite well."
You had a spin this morning (and afternoon), what happened there?
"It was just wet and I touched the curb, I just went onto the edge of the gravel. I locked the rears, without the controls, the engine braking, there is a lot more locking of the rear wheels at the corner entry. When you are on the limit and pushing, that kind of thing happens."