SEEK­ING EARLY BOOST

Hamil­ton looks for fast start to new sea­son

New Straits Times - - Sport - LEWIS HAMIL­TON

MEL­BOURNE

LEWIS Hamil­ton will look to put his stamp on the new For­mula One sea­son at this week’s Aus­tralian Grand Prix, as he seeks to re­gain the world ti­tle fol­low­ing the shock re­tire­ment of reign­ing cham­pion Nico Ros­berg.

Ten years af­ter his F1 de­but at Al­bert Park, Hamil­ton ar­rives at the down­town cir­cuit as the lead­ing light of a sport now un­der new man­age­ment and fea­tur­ing wider and faster cars.

Hamil­ton, 32, was beaten to last year’s ti­tle by Mercedes team­mate Ros­berg, who quit the sport five days later cit­ing the in­tense pres­sures of com­pet­ing.

This year, Hamil­ton will be face re­newed com­pe­ti­tion from Fer­rari and Red Bull, who are ex­pected to close the gap on dom­i­nant Mercedes, as well his new team­mate Valt­teri Bot­tas of Fin­land.

Hamil­ton is rev­el­ling in the new gen­er­a­tion of quicker cars, which co­in­cides with Amer­i­can group Lib­erty Media’s takeover and the exit of long­time ring­mas­ter Bernie Ec­cle­stone. “I’m find­ing the car is much more phys­i­cal to drive than in the past,” said Hamil­ton, who is seek­ing his fourth world ti­tle af­ter vic­to­ries in 2008, 2014 and 2015.

“It’s so much faster in the cor­ners. The force you feel on your body and on your neck is much higher. I’ve got bruises and bumps where I’ve never re­ally had them be­fore.”

An over­haul of tech­ni­cal reg­u­la­tions has ush­ered in wider cars with broader tyres, which are ex­pected to be nois­ier and pro­vide faster rac­ing, but also put greater phys­i­cal de­mands on the driv­ers.

“Hav­ing spo­ken to the driv­ers, these ma­chines are vi­o­lent — just like For­mula One cars should be,” said Mercedes chief Toto Wolff.

“The tar­get with these new reg­u­la­tions was to make this gen­er­a­tion of F1 cars the quick­est in the his­tory of the sport.

“And look­ing at the re­sults from test­ing, we’re well on the way to achiev­ing that. It’s some­thing that’s never been done be­fore and that’s a rad­i­cal change.”

Hamil­ton and Ros­berg had a frac­tious re­la­tion­ship in the Mercedes garage, but Wolff said the Bri­ton and Bot­tas were “in a great place.”

“They have a re­spect­ful and friendly re­la­tion­ship from what we’ve seen in our team brief­ings so far,” he added.

Bot­tas is yet to win a race but he is con­fi­dent of im­prov­ing on his best fin­ish of fifth around the Mel­bourne cir­cuit, for his for­mer team Wil­liams in 2014.

“It’s a big chal­lenge and I’ll def­i­nitely need to prove my­self to a lot of peo­ple and my team that I de­serve the place,” Bot­tas said.

“But I see it very pos­i­tively. It’s a great op­por­tu­nity for my ca­reer to fight for the wins and even for the cham­pi­onship.”

While the Sil­ver Ar­rows have dom­i­nated F1, win­ning the driv­ers and con­struc­tors ti­tles over the last three years, pre-sea­son test­ing pointed to other teams push­ing hard.

Fer­rari topped the timesheets at test­ing in Barcelona, with Kimi Raikko­nen fastest ahead of team­mate Se­bastien Vet­tel.

Fer­rari last won at Al­bert Park in 2007 through Raikko­nen, who went on to win the cham­pi­onship that year — the last time the Ital­ian team lifted the driv­ers ti­tle.

“It’s im­pos­si­ble to pre­dict any­thing,” said Fer­rari’s Vet­tel, a four-time cham­pion with Red Bull from 2010-2013.

“Even the tests in Barcelona only give a ba­sic idea where you stand.

“It is only in the first race that you will know how well you and the oth­ers have worked over the win­ter. We will only get real clar­ity af­ter three or four races.”

Daniel Ric­cia­rdo, at­tempt­ing to be­come the first Aus­tralian F1 world cham­pion since Alan Jones in 1980, be­lieves Red Bull can loosen Mercedes’ grip on the ti­tles.

But Ric­cia­rdo, who fin­ished third be­hind Ros­berg and Hamil­ton in last year’s stand­ings, said it would be tough to win in Mel­bourne.

“Can we be the quick­est? I think we can. Will it be by Mel­bourne? Prob­a­bly not,” he said. “We haven’t quite been the fastest in test­ing so I would say we’re not the quick­est as we stand here to­day.”

But he added that Mercedes would have a “tar­get on them.”

“If we can get close to them and get a few wins and some­how end up in a cham­pi­onship fight to­wards the end of the sea­son then that’s what I want.” AFP

It’s (the car) so much faster in the cor­ners. The force you feel on your body and on your neck is much higher. I’ve got bruises and bumps where I’ve never re­ally had them be­fore.

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