Lewis Hamilton finally opened up on the anguish he has concealed from the world since he slipped unnoticed out of a bulb-lit Abu Dhabi paddock two months ago after controversially losing out on the championship to Max Verstappen.
The Briton revealed how he lost faith in Formula One as a result of the debacle but was determined not to let the events of that desert evening define him. He also confirmed that he never seriously considered retiring from the sport’
It was obviously a difficult time for me,’ admitted the seven-time world champion, who dominated the final race of last season until the late, fateful moment at which the safety car was withdrawn earlier than the rules permitted.
‘I just unplugged, switched off,’ he continued, on his coping mechanism in the off-season that saw him withdraw himself from social media for a long time.
‘I had my whole family around me, a rare occasion when we were all together. It took time to digest what happened and it is still difficult to fully understand everything, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
‘I put my focus into training, getting healthy and enjoying the time off. ‘At the end of a season, the question is whether you are willing to commit the time and effort that it takes to be a world champion.
A lot of people underestimate what that requires. ‘Do you want to sacrifice the time? And punch at the weight you need to? That is a normal mental process for me but this one was compounded by a significant factor.
And in the sport I have loved my whole life there was a moment when I lost a little bit of faith. ‘But I am a determined person and I like to think that while moments like this might define other people’s careers, I refuse to let this define mine, so I have focused on being the best I can be and coming back stronger.
‘If you think what you saw at the end of last year was my best, wait until you see this year.’ At 37, clearly none of Hamilton’s deep-boned fighting spirit has deserted him, and his words of intention ring out as an ominous warning to the rest of the field.
Nobody can turn adversity into motivation as clearly and vividly as a cornered Lewis. He emphasised that in Brazil last November, when he took pole, was slung to the back of the grid, before pulling off the most remarkable triumph since Lazarus folded up his bed.
Much of Hamilton’s hopes depend, of course, on the performance of the handsome Mercedes he and new team-mate George Russell unveiled yesterday at Silverstone, where the wind roared across the old, open airfield.
Gone is the old black livery of recent vintage — a nod to Hamilton’s championing of racial equality — and a return to the famous silver.
With this coming season’s all-new cars, intended to generate closer racing, nothing can be taken for granted before testing begins in Barcelona next week. Even that will only provide a skeletal idea of what lies in store.
The second test takes place in Bahrain before the 23-round campaign opens for real in the little Gulf kingdom on March 18.
owever, Hamilton already has cause for cheer after the dismissal on Thursday of now former race director Michael Masi, the Australian whose flustered call brought in the safety car when only the five cars between Hamilton and Verstappen — but not those further back — had unlapped themselves.
‘I didn’t watch the race back,’ said Hamilton, who appeared relaxed throughout his media duties on Friday. ‘But it replayed in my mind quite a lot in the weeks afterwards. Now, I don’t want to go backwards and see it — I want to go forwards.
‘We cannot change the past, and nothing will ever change how it felt at the time. We have to use this moment to make sure this never happens to anybody else in this sport ever again.
‘I welcome everything that has been said by the FIA (who have made several changes to in-race decision-making) but we have to make sure we see those changes and rules applied fairly and consistently. Accountability is key.
‘Expanding on his relationship with the FIA, he added: ‘Trust can be lost in a blink of an eye or a flick of a finger. To earn trust is built over a long period of time.
‘The reforms are the first step of that, but it doesn’t change everything just yet. We need to see action and it will take time but I am not focused on that area at the moment.
‘I am just putting every ounce of my energy and time into making sure I am the best you have ever seen.’
While taking a break from social media, Hamilton collected his knighthood from Prince Charles at Windsor Castle last month, taking along his mother Carmen. He also spent time recharging in America.
He has not spoken to his vanquisher Verstappen since briefly and magnanimously congratulating him in the immediate aftermath of the Abu Dhabi race.
Does he harbour ill-feeling towards the Dutchman, who, putting the last-lap advantage aside, can hardly be said to be unworthy of the crown, based on his superior number of poles set, laps led and races won?
‘Max did everything a driver would do given the opportunity he was handed,’ said Hamilton. ‘He is a great competitor and we will go into another battle and grow from our experiences. No issues with him, and I don’t hold grudges with anybody.
‘I move forward. I don’t dwell on the past. I feel fresh, centred. I don’t have anything holding me back. I am not letting that experience in Abu Dhabi do that to me.’