The focus of Formula One is clearly and inevitably firmly fixed on Lewis Hamilton and he returns the compliment by promising to give it his all in pursuit of equalising legend Juan Manuel Fangio’s haul of five titles, and then hanging around the grand prix scene until he overtakes the gifted Michael Schumacher’s tally of seven crowns.
And his all-conquering Mercedes team, headed by master planner Toto Wolff who is poised to ensure that his four times champion will be pocketing at least £1m-a-week with a refreshed contract in the championship chase into history, are, they claim, finely honed for the opener of the 21-GP season in Melbourne for the Australian showcase this Sunday.
The Austrian is convinced Hamilton, trimmer and fitter than ever and now 33, will stick around the F1 scene with Mercedes for a good while yet and the great Briton confirms:”More than anything right now I want to succeed in Melbourne…I will have hit my weight target…I will arrive as fit and as on form as can be.
“I want to see everybody off in practice, I want to get pole position and win as convincingly as possible, As I get older I am not finding I want to chance less risk.I know a lot of drivers who, say, get to think twice about the dangers. Not me. Not caring about the risks involved in racing for wins and titles is never going to change in me. I love my job. It is dynamic.”
As Hamilton sets his sights on career victory 63 in his 208th GP, Wolff unashamedly hails his hero of a driver: “Lewis is a competitor of exceptional talent and never-failing enthusiasm and eagerness to be a winner, a superb champion, and eventually with the record of being the greatest of all time.”
As a warning to the rivals, he promises: “We will tackle this new season with the same dedication, team spirit and energy that has made us so strong and unbeatable in the past.
“Each one of us in the team has the mindset that last year’s championship belongs in the past and that yesterday’s trophies do not win today’s challenges. Any new season feels like you are climbing Mount Everest. We have triumphed and done it successfully in the past, but right now we are only at base camp and facing a tough challenge. It will be difficult, but the different challenges along the way will be mastered. Right now, like every other team and driver we are on zero points, facing a long season — but I guarantee we will be giving it our best effort to be winners again this season.”
He smiled happily at his star turn’s pre-season confidence and eagerness to race with on Mercedes as they both took a look at the Aussie circuit ahead of Sunday’s 58-lap, 191.117 mile clash. “I don’t know where the feeling comes from,” emphasised Hamilton, “but I just want to excel not only this weekend but for the whole season. It is currently what I most desire in my life. And as long as I feel like this I will carry on racing. People keeping saying to me ‘ You’ve won four titles, what keeps you going?’
“I have a mind re-set every new season.Whatever has happened in the past is irrelevant. That has all gone. It’s history. What is crucial is what is going to happen now. I am comfortable with the team and with Toto. We are committed to one another. I am not Interested in going anywhere else. I haven’t spoken to anybody else. We are the best. We are winners.”
Is this a mind game he is playing to undermine the aims of 20-year-old Red Bull wonderboy and hot rival Max Verstappen and veteran Vettel, his likeliest and closest rivals? “No way,” is his salvo,”I don’t play those games. I just drive faster. Simple.”
One thing is for sure, Hamilton will not want a repeat of his sluggish first half of the 2017 season when Sebastian Vettel, early on, put his Ferrari into the lead in the championship countdown, and then, after overtaking the German four times champion in a startling and thrilling revival, he had a faded finish in the closing stages.
While the focus lights up the frontrunners, the also-rans in two other age groups will enliven the action as one set strives to restore their reputations and the second set bids to establish themselves as future hotshots.
The two oldest drivers on the scene, Spaniard Fernando Alonso, 36, in a revitalised, re-jigged and re-designed McLaren – having abandoned the hopeless Honda engine of last year — and gloomy Finn Kimi Raikkonen, 38, on his last season with the Italian team, will be endeavouring to restore their long-gone title winning style.
In cruel contrast, two newcomers with excellent pedigrees, Charles Leclerc at Sauber, just 20, and Sergey Sirotkin, 22, at Williams, both impressive in the junior ranks of racing, are all keyed up to advance their chances of being snapped up by a mainline outfit.
All in all, the upcoming season looks set to be a value-for-admission-money stormer and could go right down to a memorable grand finale to treasure in Abu Dhabi in November.