Hamilton continues drive for perfection

English driver tops the time sheets in practice for Russian Grand Prix

 Lewis Hamilton   during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia in Sochi. Photograph: Charles Coates/Getty Images

Lewis Hamilton during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia in Sochi. Photograph: Charles Coates/Getty Images

 

Lewis Hamilton has admitted he is a thorn in the backside of his backroom staff as Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff revealed the world champion’s constant demand for perfection has turned him into the complete package.

Hamilton, 33, is edging ever closer to a fifth world championship, and he will head into the Russian Grand Prix with a commanding 40-point lead over Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel. On track, the British driver has been in the form of his career, with superstar displays in Italy earlier this month, and then under the lights of Singapore a fortnight ago.

He has won four of the last five races, and led the way in practice at the Sochi Autodrom, too, finishing half-a-second clear of Vettel, who ended up only fifth. Off track, Hamilton has flown around the world to launch his own clothing line, while he arrived on the Black Sea coast romantically linked with American rap star Nicki Minaj following time spent together in Dubai.

Could Hamilton’s blossoming relationship with Minaj, the controversial artist who boasts an Instagram following of nearly 100 million, be behind his impressive form? Or does the answer lie elsewhere?

“I wouldn’t tell you,” he said with a mischievous smile. “It is stuff that is not visible. What you continue to find in life is that we are very much stuck in our ways, and when I work with the engineers it is very similar. Breaking patterns, moulds and challenging people is what I live to do.

“I am a pain in the a*** to my engineers because I am always challenging, challenging, challenging them. Even if I am wrong, I still ask questions, and I would like to think that it has had a positive impact to help spring an idea, or a direction in which we have pushed the car.”

Hamilton won the opening two instalments of the Russian race staged here on the site of the venue for the 2014 Winter Olympics, but he was mysteriously off-colour last year. He qualified fourth, and then finished a distant fourth.

Ahead of Sunday’s race, one journalist put it to the Englishman that it was in fact the worst performance of his career. It was a notion dismissed by the Mercedes driver. Then, in practice, his fine form continued as he finished top of the time sheets ahead of team-mate Valtteri Bottas to indicate that he, and his Mercedes team, are the ones to beat.

On Friday night, Hamilton sat down with his engineers to plot his route to an eighth victory of the year. He can spend as many as 15 hours with the masterminds behind his Mercedes machinery during a race weekend. “Lewis is certainly performing on a very high level,” Wolff said of his star driver. “Without going into too much detail, he is in a good place in his life.

“He enjoys racing, and he enjoys the activities outside of racing. Give him a good car, and he is able to perform on a level that is unseen. What is also impressive is his constant development and his search for the optimum performance. He is the only driver I have ever heard say, ‘I haven’t driven well, so first we have to look at my driving and then we look at the data’.

“This constant drive for perfection is one of the reasons as to why he is such a complete racing driver.”

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