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‘Button is my biggest rival’

Ahead of his visit to Malta tomorrow, 2008 F1 world champion LEWIS HAMILTON answered questions from Patrick Cooke via e-mail.

Which is your favourite F1 circuit?

Monaco is my no.1 because it’s a very special circuit, rich in history.

Although you’re not going round it as quickly as you would be on other circuits, it feels incredibly fast because the walls are so close.

The acceleration of a F1 car is so fast that it’s a real challenge to control it in an environment like that. You can’t afford to make a single mistake. Every lap is a new challenge and you need to be on top of your game for the whole race.

The race you want to win most...

I’m always looking forward to the next race. Whether it’s at a circuit I’ve won before or not, that is the place I most want to win at.

Who is your biggest rival?

Your team-mate is always your biggest rival because they have equal equipment.

That’s why Jenson (Button) has been my biggest rival for the past three seasons because he also wants to be the best and he’s always looking for ways to improve.

We work together but we’re also racing against each other. It’s been a very friendly rivalry but when we’re out on track we both want to beat each other.

Which race do you consider to be your greatest GP victory so far?

My most recent win was very special for me because I had to work so hard to achieve it. It was the US Grand Prix, an important new race at a brand new circuit, and when I qualified second on the grid I knew it was going to be tough.

There was less grip on that side of the track so anyone starting from an ‘even’ number was going to be slow away. But I believed in myself and I didn’t let my head drop when Mark Webber got ahead of me at the first corner. I knew I could get back past him.

Getting past Sebastian (Vettel) was always going to be difficult, but when I saw him being held up by some backmarkers I saw my chance and I knew I had to grab it.

I turned the engine up to maximum revs and just pushed like crazy. Vettel tried to block me but I was coming through. The difference between us was that I wanted it more than him.

Where do you find the most passion for F1 racing?

In the UK. That’s where people get up at dawn to be first in the queue to get the best vantage points, and we saw at the British Grand Prix this year that the crowd just don’t let bad weather get to them.

They were going to watch a F1 race even if it meant standing ankle-deep in mud!

Do you think F1 will ever be fully appreciated in the US?

It will and I believe the US Grand Prix this year demonstrated that. Before that race, there was a lot of negativity in some sections of the media. There were people who thought that American race fans couldn’t or wouldn’t relate to F1.

Well, I think they were all pleasantly surprised and the welcome they got in Austin changed a lot of perceptions. There was a really positive vibe all weekend and you got the feeling that everyone wanted to make the event a great success.

It was a great adventure and made me feel very optimistic about the sport’s future in the US.

Who are your F1 racing heroes?

Ayrton Senna has always been my hero and that’s why I painted my helmet yellow, to honour his memory. He once said: ‘Each one has to improve himself. My limit is a little bit further than everyone else’s.’

That’s what made him the greatest, because he was always trying to do better, always pushing to be the best.

If you could take part in a racing championship besides F1, what would you choose?

Formula 1 has always been my goal so I wouldn’t even think of racing anywhere else right now.

How have you changed as a driver since your first season with McLaren?

I’ve learned and developed as a person. Life gives you a continuous set of experiences to learn from and every day brings new opportunities to improve your craft. As a racing driver, whenever you go out on the circuit, you’re almost starting again from a blank sheet of paper.

Whatever you did before, however fast you went, you have to do it again and improve on it because all others are trying to do the same.

If you’ve made any mistakes you have to learn from them. When you get behind the wheel you’re on your own and it’s up to you to make the difference.

What would you be doing if you were not a F1 driver?

I don’t really know – a Formula One driver is all I ever wanted to be!

How would you like to be remembered when you retire?

Quick, and always trying to be quicker.

What can Malta expect from Lewis Hamilton’s visit and what does Lewis Hamilton expect Malta to be like?

You’ll be able to get closer to an F1 car than you would if you came to a Grand Prix.

One of the great things about being an F1 driver is the travel, the opportunity to visit new places and see things you’ve never seen before, so I’m really looking forward to coming to Malta.

Do you have a message for Maltese fans?

Yes – I’m really looking forward to seeing you all. It’s going to be a great event and you’ll absolutely love it.

• Lewis Hamilton will be attending the Vodafone Raise Your Game event to-morrow at the Paqpaqli għall-Istrina fund-raiser, where he will be performing in a Vodafone McLaren Mercedes MP4-26.

• Visit www.vodafone.com.mt/paqpaqli ghall-istrina/raiseyourgame or the Vodafone Malta Facebook page for more details. Follow the action on the day at timesofmalta.com and read an exclusive face-to-face interview with Hamilton in The Times on Monday.

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