Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team driver and Championship leader Lewis Hamilton looks back on the European Grand Prix weekend at the all-new Valencia street circuit. Although he suffered from a stiff neck and a bit of the flue, Hamilton was able to finish the race in second position.
What did you think of the Valencia street circuit?
“I think the organisers did a great job getting it ready and I can really see Valencia growing into a great track. It certainly wasn’t your average street circuit – it was very flat, wide and fast, so almost the complete opposite of Monaco.”
What’s the key to racing successfully on a street circuit?
“You’ve got to be more committed than at a normal circuit to get the maximum from the car but, at the same time, you’ve also got to be more cautious because you know that even the slightest error can put you in the wall. So you’ve got to blend those two approaches – obviously, we’re not throwing the cars right into the corners where the apexes are marked by concrete barriers, but I try to get as close as possible as push as close to the limit as I can while remaining safe.”
Was it difficult to find the limit at a brand new street course?
“The most difficult thing about the track was its dustiness; it was very slippery so if you locked your brakes, you could find yourself sliding quite a bit – as I found out on a couple of occasions!
“But I love the concept of racing in the streets of a city – Monaco has always felt special and Valencia also had a unique feel to it. Now I’m looking forward to Singapore at the end of September – these kind of races really makes Formula 1 exciting.”
What sort of changes can you make to the car during a race weekend?
“Well, obviously, we’re pretty limited by what we can change during the race itself – we can alter the tyre pressures and change the angle of the front-wing flap, but that’s about it. During free practice, we can make further set-up changes, but it’s still important not to make too many hasty calls. At a circuit like Valencia, which was very green and dusty on the opening day, it’s particularly important not to change too much as the track conditions will change hugely before the race. We usually find a good balance before we arrive at a track and then my job is all about making detail changes with my engineers to optimise the balance and look after tyre-wear.”
Ron Dennis called your second position a ‘strategic’ result – is it frustrating when you have to drive for points?
“Clearly, I want to win all the time, but I’ve learned that sometimes it’s more advantageous to score as many points as possible and live to fight another day. My aim is still to win the world championship and you don’t do that by ending up in the barriers after making an opportunistic move. In Valencia, we scored a very useful haul of points and I’ve actually come away from the weekend having extended my lead in the championship despite losing two points to Felipe. I’m mentally strong enough to be able to deal with that – and I’m more relaxed about it too. I’m playing a long game.”
You’re returning to Brands Hatch next weekend to give DTM visitors a flavour of Formula 1 – are you looking forward to it?
"Yeah, I’m really looking forward to it, actually! I’m running my Formula 1 car around the Indy circuit, which should be pretty cool. Brands Hatch is amazing in a Formula 3 car, it’s going to be unbelievable going through Paddock Hill Bend with 750bhp behind you. It’s also great fun to drive the car away from the race weekends, where everything is so pressurised and intense. I did Goodwood and the Double 12 Festival earlier this summer, so this will be a nice way to round things off before really knuckling down until the end of the season.”