Hamilton: "The word 'afraid' is something that I don't hold in my body"
We speak exclusively to championship leader Lewis Hamilton about his career, going for his fifth title, and what he would change about the sport.
AS: It's 27 degrees on Sunday.
Hamilton: Yeah, that's not too bad.
AS: Lewis, will the new contract that everybody's expecting in the near future, will this be your last Formula One contract. Did you make up your mind about the future?
Hamilton: I haven't, so I think it's impossible to say what's going to happen beyond that, but... I hope not.
AS: Do you have any preferences for your future team-mate from 2019 onwards? Presumably you will stay with Mercedes...
Hamilton: Next year?
AS: Yeah, do you have a preference?
Hamilton: Yeah, my [current] team-mate. I generally don't have any preferences, but what we have now works perfectly well. Valtteri [Bottas] has really been pushing me a lot this year, so it's been great.
AS: The world championship title fight: is it only between you and Sebastian [Vettel], or do you think that somebody else can interfere?
Hamilton: It's between four, about four of us at the moment. I think at least four of us right now, so... [Max] Verstappen, Daniel [Ricciardo]... Five of us.
AS: And Valtteri.
Hamilton: Yeah. I don't know where Kimi [Raikkonen] is in the points, but...
AS: Are you afraid of having any grid penalties because of engine parts later on in the season?
Hamilton: I honestly don't carry... The word 'afraid' is something that I don't hold in my body. In my body or mind. It's such a negative, so no I don't hold any fear of that. I just try not to put that negativity into the air. Am I aware that those things are possible? Absolutely. And I'm prepared for it if something was to happen. I've experienced it in the past and I know what it's like and I know the impact it can have, but I'm also aware that there's always a way around things.
AS: Have you got everything you wanted from your life? Have all your dreams come true?
Hamilton: I don't think so, no. I think everyone always wants more.
AS: What's your dream now?
Hamilton: There are things that haven't always... Not every single dream has come true, but I'm living the main dream.
AS: And what is your next challenge?
Hamilton: It's currently [world title] number five. That is THE challenge at the moment, and that's taking me everything at the moment. I don't really have any time for any other challenges.
AS: Do you think you can win seven titles like Michael Schumacher?
Hamilton: I don't know, because I don't know if I even want to race long enough in order to get to that. Right now, four is a huge milestone already, and getting a fifth is just... It's almost unimaginable, to be honest, but it's a huge, huge dream and to match someone like [Juan Manuel] Fangio, would be just... I can believe that I'm even fighting for that position, that I'm embarking on that opportunity at the moment, so [inaudible].
AS: Could you live without winning in Formula One?
Hamilton: In Formula One? Yeah, of course. I'm going to have to at some stage. When I stop racing, I won't be able to have victories anymore, so it's going to have to be in something else.
AS: You've been winning [races] every year.
Hamilton: Yeah, I'm sure it'll be difficult to not be racing. It's difficult for every driver to stop something they've done for their whole lives, but I'm sure it'll be replaced by something else not exactly the same, but just as special in another way.
AS: What are your expectations for this race? Mercedes has a 100% record since we came back to Austria.
Hamilton: This is a short track, it's also a lot closer this year, Ferrari are particularly quick on the straights, I anticipate that it's probably going to be a strong weekend for them, Red Bull were quite good here I think last year. [It'll be] tough, but I think...
Hamilton: I don't know if it's going to be manageable, but it's going to be close, like it has been in previous races. But being that short, I imagine it being a lot closer than normal.
AS: Can you imagine continuing your career in racing in other formulas like Le Mans, Indianapolis...?
AS: Just Formula One?
AS: I have three questions about your Spanish rivals. One of them is Carlos Sainz. What do you see when you look at him? Do you see him being a future champion?
Hamilton: If I'm honest, I don't look at another individual in life and see a champion. I think it's difficult to gauge whether someone's going to be a champion or not. I think Carlos is a great guy, he's got a great dad who has had a great career and Carlos has really been earning his spot here in Formula One, I think he's driving really well and has a great approach, but I can't tell you whether he's... I don't know where his future is going. Could he win the championship? I'm sure he's won championships in the past and I think a lot of the drivers in Formula One could probably win the championship. We live in a weird time in Formula One where one championship doesn't mean anything now. It's about multiple championships. One championship in the past, many years ago, was something so special, now it's about how many you can get, how consistent you can be. It's strange.
AS: And about Fernando [Alonso], would you understand if Fernando retired [inaudible]?
Hamilton: I would understand, for sure.
AS: And do you think Formula One has been unfair on Fernando as a sport?
Hamilton: I don't think in particular on Fernando. I don't feel the sport's been unfair on Fernando. Do I feel the sport is not set right? Yes. We've got the big teams and the little teams and it cascades down. There's two seconds' difference between the top three teams and then the fourth team. The big teams... Ferrari can earn more money than Mercedes, Ferrari can veto all the rules, no-one else can. It'd be cool, and I hope that when they do the new Concorde Agreement that it's better for the young teams so they can have a better platform for younger drivers. It shouldn't just be wealthy drivers coming through. It's not just Formula One; it's all the categories. You've got only rich kids coming through now. It should be people with talent.
AS: With the three race weekends in a row that we have now for the first time, how do you prepare for these races? Did you find time in between France and Austria to do some physical practice or any leisure time?
Hamilton: I had Monday off and then I had work on Tuesday and Wednesday. So it's been quite hectic.
AS: And the same again next week?
Hamilton: No, next week I have Monday to Wednesday off. Luckily something got cancelled on Wednesday so I'll probably do something with the family next week.
AS: And it's the busiest weekend next weekend for you?
Hamilton: Yeah, but usually it's like Monday or Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. The team's been great and it's only Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. So that's a breeze compared to previous years.
AS: In an ideal Formula One, what would you change compared with now? Technical rules or sporting rules, or...?
Hamilton: I would probably look at the structure of Formula One and how it's run, how it's governed, and probably remove a lot of individuals that are in place. I would look into successful businesses and structures, and if you look at big corporate companies, if the CEO or individuals high up, executives or whatever, aren't doing their job, they get fired. If the racing drivers are not doing their job, they go. But it's not necessarily the same within this sport and so I would look at how it's structured and whether it needs to be structured better.
AS: So more competition?
Hamilton: Then comes the car and I'll try and figure out how I can make it more competitive. I don't know if that's a good thing, but it should be good for the cars that we have now, the cars that we have are probably not perfect when it comes to wheel-to-wheel racing. So I'd try and look into how we can make racing more like karting. More like touring cars, with more wheel-to-wheel racing. I think that would be something super exciting.
AS: Probably for the drivers and for the spectators.
Hamilton: Yeah, definitely. And I'd also... When the grid had more cars, I think it was better. When you look back and there were like 30 cars or whatever on the grid, 38 cars or whatever it was on the grid, there were a lot back in the day.
AS: In 1989/90, we had pre-qualifying on the Friday morning with 30 out of 38 cars making it through, then qualifying, with 30 battling it out for 26 spots.
Hamilton: Pretty sick. I mean those kinds of things are pretty cool. Now it's so structured and controlled, you only have two sets of tyres for practice and the cars don't sound good. It's just all gone the wrong way. If it was my boat, I'd be trying to steer it in a different way.
AS: A big list.
Hamilton: It's a big list and there's a lot of work. A lot of employing, a lot of firing [laughs], a lot of hiring... Hiring and firing. I would have to get someone like Toto [Wolff] to run it because he knows how to run a business.
AS: Will you do your motor-bike exercise in the evening here as you said in France? You said on Austrian TV that you like to use your motor bike and ride around.
Hamilton: If the weather's good... Right back there, there's like a beautiful valley, and I just have this picture in my mind of last year, I think it was last year. It was sunset and the sky was kind of purpley-pink and I was driving through this valley and there was a perfect road in between these fields. It was majestic. So I hope I get to experience that.
AS: It's around Zeltweg. It's a nice place.
Hamilton: It's really beautiful countryside. Growing up in England, I really love countryside.
AS: Which people have been key in your life?
Hamilton: My mum, my dad, Ron Dennis, Martin Whitmarsh, God, Nelson Mandela, Muhammad Ali, Ayrton Senna. I just gave you a few, I just gave you all the key people.
AS: The most important people in your life.
Hamilton: They're not the most important people, they're the key people. It's a different thing. The most important people in my life are my family.
AS: What things make you happy in your life outside Formula One?
Hamilton: What makes me happy is time spent with family and friends, trips that you get to do with friends, kids - I've got my godson, I've got my nephew and my niece. My dogs make me so happy. That's kind of it. Doing adventurous trips with friends and creating memories. Normal stuff.
AS: How far will England go in the World Cup?
Hamilton: Right to the end [laughs]. I want to see them in the final, against like Brazil or something. That'd be so cool.
AS: Toto said before to us that last night and today there was nobody answering the phones in Stuttgart.
Hamilton: I bet. Yeah, it's definitely tough. But you know, it's not how you fall but how you get up. They're still champions right now, so...
AS: Thank you very much, good luck.