Q&A with Lewis Hamilton

PUBLISHED: 16:42 17 January 2008 | UPDATED: 22:05 26 October 2009

Lewis Hamilton at his book signing in Stevenage

Lewis Hamilton at his book signing in Stevenage

Mobil 1 presents a Q&A with Lewis Hamilton, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes and Mobil1 Motor Sport Technical Coordinator Dr Tony Harlow Q) Let s just have a quick recap of 2007 - there were some fantastic moments for you personally, perhaps you can just talk t

Mobil 1 presents a Q&A with Lewis Hamilton, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes and Mobil1 Motor Sport Technical Coordinator Dr Tony Harlow

Q) Let's just have a quick recap of 2007 - there were some fantastic moments for you personally, perhaps you can just talk through your season a little bit and some of the highlights?

LH: I've had a phenomenal year, I really didn't expect to be challenging for the World Championship in my first year. I was hoping that I'd do a good job and get some points for the team and impress some people but I just went beyond my expectation and everyone else's.

Obviously the highlight of the year for me was getting my first pole position in Canada - it was just an unreal feeling and then to top that to get the win, especially after a race where there were four safety car periods, an accident involving a friend of mine and so many different things thrown into the race - I was wondering whether I was actually supposed to win the race or not and then fortunately we came away with the win. Again, I just never would have thought I would have got my first win in my first season.

To think I had nine consecutive podiums, honestly it was just mind-blowing for me but such a great experience. I had to just sit back and absorb it all and be a real sponge this year because there was so much going on with all the different appearances I had to do, meeting new people, flying to all these different countries and then I had to get in the car and learn new circuits and compete against more experienced drivers, so a pretty hectic season.

The team did a superb job all year. The car was the most reliable car of the year. We had a bit of a glitch at the last race but despite that we still finished the race and we held the fastest lap all the way to the last lap. I had an unreal season, not just because I drove the car well, not just because the team did a good job putting the car together, but it was just a collective effort - from all the partners, everyone doing their piece and working to the maximum and I think we need to continue with that otherwise Ferrari will beat us again and I don't want that!

Q) Tony turning to you, you have this rather grand title of Mobil 1 Motorsport Technical Coordinator. Could you perhaps tell us what that means and what your role is within the team, the responsibilities you have within ExxonMobil and also perhaps a little bit about your history within Formula 1?

TH: My role as Mobil 1 motor sport technical coordinator has three prime functions. I work very closely with technical colleagues at our research centre in Paulsboro, New Jersey (which is close to Philadelphia) on developing the fuels, the engine lubricants, the gearbox lubricants and all the products that we supply on the race car. So that's the technical programme. Being based here in the UK, I provide all of the products for the races, for the tests and for the dynamometer as well as the other testing that we do to support the programme. And finally, I have the privilege and pleasure of travelling to the same venue as Lewis every two weeks and provide trackside support by analysing the Mobil 1 and assessing the condition of the engine throughout the race weekend.

Q) 2007 is not your debut season, how long have you been associated with the sport?

TH: I've been associated with Formula 1 for over 25 years and with McLaren in particular for the last 13 years.

Q) Lewis has mentioned his highlight for 2007. From your pit-side position, being located at European races within the race trucks and the garage at the flyaway races, what would you say your highlight of 2007 has been?

TH: I guess Canada was a highlight and not only Lewis's win but we had a 1-2 in Canada and it doesn't get any better than that. I think that's what we as a team try all the time to do. We did that in Indianapolis and Lewis won there too. The North American trip was a highlight of the year as we were coming after a good result in Monaco and that was the high point of the season without a doubt. Added to which, and Lewis touched on it, we went the whole year without a single engine failure and that was both from Friday running and the race engines on Saturday and Sunday for both cars. That is what we strive to achieve, perfection in terms of reliability but also performance and we were able to, I think, do that this season.

Q) I think we're right in saying that the team was the only team to have completed every single lap of every single race up until the Japanese Grand Prix. So 15 races, having completed every single lap with both cars, is a great achievement.

Now Lewis, Tony mentioned there the Indianapolis race in the USA and we've already spoken about Canada - these where two circuits which you were not familiar with I guess a week prior to those respective Grand Prix - now you did phenomenally well on these tracks which you'd never raced on before, can you perhaps tell us a little bit about how you got to learn these tracks so quickly?

LH: I think it's just a skill I've developed over the years, even if I've not been there before. On Thursday, the engineers and I walk the circuit just to get an idea where the braking points are, where the bumps are, the turning points, but obviously this year I hadn't been to Melbourne, Malaysia, Indianapolis, Montreal, Japan, China and Brazil. Luckily for me, in the previous season in GP2 we only had half an hour practice and that would be about the equivalent of 13 laps so you had to learn circuits very, very quickly so I've been able to adjust myself and get on the ball quite quickly.

Sometimes I did work on the simulator, but not all the time, and I've been on the computer game with my brother before and watched all the Grand Prix's previously so I had a good idea and understanding of where the corners were! By just looking at all the data, on board footage of previous races and literally covering every area I could so that when I got in that car and got out of the pit lane, I knew where the pit lane exit was going, where the white line finished and where the first corner was, where the braking signs were, everything, so it gives you a good foundation to build upon. When I go out and do that warm up lap I feel the grip of the track where the bumps are and although I could have just taken it easy on the first couple of laps, I always like to go out and just really nail a good lap because I think it gives a good impression. It makes a good start to the weekend.

Q) Did you find any of those new circuits any more challenging than another? Was there one in particular in your mind which took longer to get used to than the others?

LH: I think Montreal was relatively easy to learn. Indianapolis was very easy to learn. I would say Melbourne was one of the toughest as it's a bit of a street circuit/race circuit and all the pressure was on my shoulders. I was on the edge and nearly finished second so I would say that was probably the toughest circuit.

Q) Tony, with regard to the lubricant it's also been a challenging year. Could you perhaps give us a bit of an overview of how new regulation placed demands on the engine oil in particular, during 2007.

TH: Yes it perhaps came as a little bit of a surprise, but the new challenge actually came when the car was stationary at the beginning of qualifying 3 - you are queuing to go out for up to five minutes and as there's no cooling on a Formula 1 car when it is stationary, the temperatures are increasing steadily and occasionally dramatically, so the pressure on the lubricant under those conditions is extreme. Fortunately with the colleagues from Mercedes-Benz in Brixworth and Stuttgart, we'd done our homework and we were able to gain an advantage through the rather unusual situation of a Formula 1 car standing still rather than racing around the track.

Q) You mentioned cooling there as a particular property of a lubricant but perhaps it's worth actually describing the exact role - a lubricant clearly lubricates but it has many different functions within the engine so perhaps you could give us a bit of an overview of exactly what the lube does.

TH: The lube has many roles within a Formula 1 engine. Those roles are not dissimilar to the role that they have in your normal passenger cars that we all drive but of course the loads and temperatures are at a higher extreme. We have to be able to withstand engine speeds up to 19,000 RPM, temperatures up to 300°C and all of that, whilst providing complete reliability for two races, so the lubricant is there to lubricate as the term obviously implies but it's also there to cool, to prevent wear and most importantly for Lewis, it's there to give him extra horsepower by minimising internal friction. It's about getting that balance right which is the key in terms of the lubrication science that we apply.

Q) You've mentioned you've been involved in Formula 1 for about 25 years, what do you think the biggest development in lubricant technology has been over that period of time from your perspective?

TH: The principal stress is now, without doubt, the thermal stresses because the aerodynamics play such a role in terms of the evolution of how the car is sculpted, the air flow is therefore carefully controlled. We want to minimise the losses that come from drag and airflow and the temperatures have increased quite significantly so the thermal battering that the lubricant takes through the engine is probably the most significant criteria that we now have to deal with. That's where the synthetic technology was pioneered to be able to demonstrate that capability through the turbo-engine era but now with the naturally aspirated engines that we run, it comes to the fore and Mobil 1 is the pioneer in terms of that technology.

Q) Now, as the curtain falls on the 2007 season we're obviously looking ahead to 2008. Testing begins next week back in Spain, Lewis are you part of that test and what is your involvement with winter testing as a whole?

LH: Last year I did all the test days, from even before the end of the season, from September to February. I did every test day alongside Pedro and Fernando but this year I obviously don't need to do every single test - it's important at the moment for me to at least take a little bit of a break and spend some time with my family. But the ball's always rolling so the team are still working very, very hard on next year's car. Also, on the engine side it's already looking quite good. We finished very much on a high in terms of the engine this year, so we are just trying to keep the momentum going and improve on those areas.

I won't be going to tests next week but every day I am in touch with the team and they have an end of day debrief on how the test went, so I always call in for the teleconference and at times I ask questions on how the car was, how the driving is without traction control. I will be going to the second test which will be in Jerez in early December, so I'm currently getting back into my fitness training with my trainer.

We have fitness training and the tests that we have to go through, the V02 Max test, is probably one of the hardest tests of the year. But for me, what's important is that I've had a fantastic season and the goal is obviously to win next year's Championship, not only the constructors but also the drivers. For me to do that I've got to be fitter, I've got to be better and prepared mentally and physically and that also means understanding the car more, being more relaxed, making sure I analyse the data more and if I can be better prepared than I was this year when I approach those races, then we should do better. Fingers crossed the car will be as reliable as it was this year, if not better.

Q) Now you mentioned physical fitness there and we're always hearing about the physical demands placed on a Formula driver through dehydration and G-Forces. Could you just explain some of those physical demands that have been placed on you over the course of this year?

LH: It's all been a new experience. Up until September of last year, I did all training myself and not really having any guidelines of what I should have been doing - although I did speak to formal trainers a couple of times. This year I've obviously got a much better programme to work with my trainer on.

They always talk about G-Forces which people don't always particularly understand I don't think. G-Force is the amount of Gs you're pulling times your body weight, so if you're pulling 5 Gs, you're pulling five times your body weight and when we're breaking from 100-200 miles an hour, down to 50 miles an hour just after the 100 metre sign, the brakes are so good and because you're at high speed and have maximum downforce, your whole body wants to go forward, so its really important that you get your core stability. It's not about bulking yourself up or having big muscles it's just about having endurance. You need your strength because the steering is quite heavy, even though we have power steering and when you're going through corners at 120-150 miles per hour, your body wants to go one way and the car's going the other way, it's almost like it's on rails so you're just trying to hang in there with the car and the force is on your arms, on your shoulders, your core, your legs and most importantly your neck - your head just wants to fall off your shoulders. I've actually noticed that my neck, during the season was a 14 and a half or size 15 neck and that went up to 17 and it's now shrunk again since the last race and it's already gone down but obviously I'm going to have to start building that back up for the test.

If you look at Malaysia, the hardest race this year, I can't remember the temperatures but it was ridiculous - I mean you get in your car, you're in your thermal long johns and thermal top and then you're in a suit and the car's already roasting. The brakes are getting hot, the front down by your feet is getting warm because of all the hydraulics and fluid flowing down there and you're working your nuts off. Then during the race I was having to hold off one of the Ferraris and I ran out of water - we have 500milliletres of water in the car - I literally ran out after the first pitstop and so I was nearly dead at the end of the race but I managed to keep it together. After the race you just need ten minutes to recuperate and drink as much water as you can. I lost four and a half kilos in that race. You're under a lot of stress, not only in the car but also on the outside, so it's important that you're fit enough and you prepare yourself for the weekend so even if you do lose that amount of weight you're still healthy.

Q) Tony, clearly there are physical demands on Lewis throughout a Grand Prix, but there are also demands on the car. As mentioned already the lubricant helps the engine cope with these demands. The rules state that each engine must last for two Grand Prix - could you explain the relationship between the lubricant and the life of the engine and how these have developed? Talk us through those particular demands for example when or where we may not be changing the lubricant in the engines to keep up with reliability and performance.

TH: Well, we don't actually change the engine lubricant out of choice during the period of two races. It might be changed if there's a new radiator or if there is some work on the car that requires the oil system to be drained but the life of the lubricant is not an issue in terms of the two-race event. There's plenty of reserve within the product to stand the test of time but I think it's important that the lubricant can help contribute to maintaining the performance of the engine. One of the things we have worked hard on this year, particularly with the lubricant but also with the fuel, is to maintain the engines performance. There is a slight drop off in engine performance over two races and we work to keep as much power as we can at the end of the second race - the drop off did use to be a lot. We've certainly improved the power retention during the race weekend.

Q) When looking ahead through the winter and into 2008, what sort of additional Research & Development or testing work will be carried out for next year?

TH: We operate under a tripartite confidential arrangement with McLaren, Mercedes-Benz and ExxonMobil and we have ongoing development programmes to improve the products. In the case of the engine oil, the primary objective is to reduce friction, maintaining the reliability and the protection of the engine. We've got some programmes well under way now. One of the things we managed to achieve last year was to develop a new screening tool which is looking at an improved lubricant for next season - most of the work takes place away from the track on the dynamometer testing and then followed by track testing. When we're totally happy, it will be introduced at the race and hopefully bring a set performance benefit so that Lewis's lap time might be a bit quicker.

Q) The focus has been engine lubricants but ExxonMobil do provide gearbox lubricants as well. Tony, could you just explain a bit about the work that we're doing with gearbox oils as well?

TH: There have been significant developments in the regulations for 2008. The gearbox has actually got to last four races which is significant as it used to only have to last for one race. We are feeling comfortable that we're in a good position but part of the winter track test programme will be to prove, before we arrive in Melbourne, that we're in good shape. This includes the lubricant which has a significant role to play within the gearbox in minimising the losses and 'dragging' and we particularly use low-traction lubricants for that purpose.

Q) So a change in regulation for the gearbox. Lewis, there has also been a change in the regulation of electronic, no traction control next year, how do you think that will affect your approach or style of racing?

LH: It's going to be interesting, it'll be my first time driving a Formula 1 car without traction control in a couple of weeks but all the time I've been driving up until this season, including my GP2 car, I've been driving without traction control so I've got the technique. I'm sure a lot of the Formula 1 drivers have been there for years, and have been driving with traction control for some time so it's going to be harder for them to switch back. For me, I had to learn a new technique, maximise the traction control and use it for your benefit, it's a different driving style with the accelerator. But I'm quite excited about it, traction control was a good experience but I'm actually quite glad it's gone. It's definitely going to make it interesting but with these tyres it's going to be very difficult to manage them so I'm guessing that when we remove traction control it's going to be even harder. It's going to be the drivers that are more user-friendly with the throttle and the power who will be able to balance and manage the tyres throughout the race but I'm sure there will be people having real problems with spinning.

Q) Lewis, this may be your debut season 2007 but you have been part of McLaren Mercedes and indeed the Mobil 1 family for many years. In your mind, as a racing driver, how crucial are these technology partnerships, from your perspective as a driver?

LH: I think that not only with the partners but for me the longevity, the relationship I've had with the team, has helped when I came in this year knowing the people and their values - it helps you to work together and have that continuation and to see that I've been with them for what I think is my tenth year at McLaren, and to see that the other partners have been here as long as me if not longer, I think is very good. It's always good taking on new partners as you have to build up that relationship but the good thing is we have the relationship right now and for me, it's a privilege to be part of it and I look forward to working with them in the future.

Q) Tony, the partnership between Mobil and McLaren started back in 1995 so next season will be the 13th year. The logos appear on the cars and by the track but I guess there's more of a fundamental reason for the involvement of ExxonMobil in Formula 1 - that is the transfer of technology in Formula 1 racing car to an everyday road car lubricant. Can you give us an idea of what is going on in that technology transfer?

TH: I alluded to it earlier on that the normal passenger car and the normal Formula 1 engine have many similarities. Perhaps the important thing to recognise is that within Formula 1 we have the capability in a very fast timescale to adapt to new technologies and operate in the Formula 1 environment. Those new technologies can then be transferred into products for use in the normal car and that's what we do. It's very applicable and it's a very useful way to develop the technology.

Q) There is a technology called Supersyn, can you explain what that is?

TH: It is a material that we discovered in the mid-nineties and we found that we were able to effectively lower internal engine friction whilst providing extremely good protection and it's that reduction of friction without impairing the reliability which is vital. You can imagine that as you reduce the film thickness so the frictional losses decrease but if you go too far then the friction suddenly increases and you have catastrophic wear. The material Supersyn which we developed and introduced in the nineties in Formula 1 has been very successful as part of our Mobil 1 technology in the marketplace.

Q) It's been a pretty busy period for you - can you tell us what you've been up to since the season ended?

LH: As soon as I got back off the plane I was straight into doing some appearances, interviews and there's lot of work to catch up on. I was so focused on preparing myself for the races that the team put a lot of events at the end of the year so I'm basically just bouncing through all of those and getting them out the way! There's a lot of appearances I need to be doing and it's been pretty much non-stop since the last race but I do get a bit of a break over Christmas which I'll spend with my family and catching up with my friends. My biography was also out last week and I've been working on that - it was written in quite a short period of time and there's a lot of work to be done, interviewing, reading and reading so it's been pretty interesting. I'm surprised at how many people turned up to my launch but to be honest I'm really enjoying it, I'm not complaining I've got too much work on and I can't wait for the next season to be honest. But I am looking forward to having a bit of a break! I haven't decided where I'm going yet.

Q) How has it been coming back from the last race and into the limelight?

LH: The first time I actually noticed it was when I came back from Bahrain and I'd been away for two months after all the training and I'd done my first three races and was leading the world championship - all of a sudden people started to notice me and it's just got more and more throughout the whole year.

Q) Do you think you'll ever be able to be a normal guy again?

LH: Well, that's the thing, I am a normal guy. I come from a normal background in a small town which I still go to as much as I can and the only difference is that I drive a Formula 1 car but for the outside world they obviously perceive that differently and with the fame comes a lot of responsibilities but I have a very close family who keep my feet on the ground so as long as I have them close to me there's no reason why I need to change and for sure I can't live the same life you're living in terms of being able to go where I want but that was a price I was willing to pay when they said, "do you want to be a Formula 1 driver?" The benefits I get from it are tenfold.

Q) What are your thoughts on Istanbul Park and the Turkish spectators?

LH: First of all, I love the city, it's beautiful and we stay in the Hilton Conrad and when you have breakfast you have a fantastic view - it's quite a strange feeling when you look over the sea and you realise that one side is Europe and the other side is Asia and it's quite unreal. I was very fortunate, we had a nice escort to the track and we didn't get stuck in traffic - the weather's always good and the people are very, very welcoming, it's one of the ones you look forward to. It's an anti-clockwise circuit which is pretty tough on turn 8 - in GP2 it's tough and in Formula 1 it's really tough, putting God knows how many Gs as you go through that corner for eight seconds or something. I've had some good experiences, obviously last year I finished second from way back and this year we were looking to have a podium but I had a tyre failure.

Q) You said earlier that you just turn up and drive the car but what involvement do you have with the engine in terms of what goes on in it? How much do you need to know?

LH: You need to know everything or as much as you can, obviously not as much as Tony knows here and it's a pretty good experience to sit next to him as 25 years of experience beats my 11 months of experience in Formula 1 but I don't just turn up and drive, pre-season I had to learn everything about the car, mainly the technical side, how we can improve the setup. My engineer does the real setup of the car before we arrive at the track but when I arrive I almost dictate how the car should be setup. I come in from a run and as a driver I need to be able to say I need softer front springs, I need more front wing, I need a lower rear ride height, I need this, I need that and I have the confidence and the experience to be able to do that. Through the year I've been working closely with Mercedes-Benz and Mobil 1.

I'm not the engineer and I'm not the designer, I'm not there to tell them what to do but I have to give the correct feedback of how the engine's performing and we have to work really closely together to improve.

Q) I've heard you've had karate lessons and play football, can you tell us more about this, and do you have time to still do it? Tell us more about how you stay fit?

LH: I was six when I started doing karate and that was because I was being bullied at school. I was having problems and was one of the smaller guys at school and in terms of confidence I could stand up to the tallest guy in the world and not be scared but at the end of the day I was weaker than the others and wanted to be able to defend myself so I had karate lessons which taught me a lot about discipline. I was a kid who just wanted to have fun and you had to stand in line, learning about karate teaches you a lot of discipline so a very important part of my life. I had to stop as I broke my hand whilst sparring, I broke my knuckle and that nearly stopped me from doing the World Championship in karting which then nearly led to Robert Kubica beating me in one of the races.

I always played in a football team in infant school and junior school through to seniors and I was always a midfielder player. I was very, very active at school, I did all the sports, basketball, cricket, football, I was in the cross country team, running, athletics, javelin, discus, the 100 metres, I did everything and I was one of the fittest obviously because of my racing. So I did all these different things besides training. I used to ride my bike to school but as I got more and more serious I had to do a lot of my own training, take myself to the gym to do my own two or three hour sessions and swimming. I've always been very active and I was playing a lot of squash also. I was quite good at football; I used to play with Ashley Young, who now plays for Aston Villa. I wouldn't say I was better than him but I was probably faster than him at the time. I was bigger but he knew the game far better than me and he had much more skill than me. And I don't have time for it now.

Q = Questioner

LH = Lewis Hamilton

TH = Dr Tony Harlow

ExxonMobil Lubricants & Specialties is the world's foremost supplier of lubricant base stocks and a leading marketer of finished lubricant products under the ExxonMobil, Exxon, Esso, and Mobil brands, including Mobile 1-the world's leading synthetic motor oil. It markets lubricants, petroleum specialty products, and lubrication services in nearly 200 countries and territories world wide.

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