Lewis Hamilton is relishing being back at work as Formula One’s reigning world champion prepares to defend his crown.
The Mercedes star is this year bidding to win his sixth title, and move to within only one of Michael Schumacher’s record haul.
Unlike in recent seasons, however, Hamilton has not arrived in Melbourne for the sport’s traditional curtain raiser as the favourite to win the championship.
Indeed, after an impressive eight days of winter testing in Barcelona, it is Hamilton’s Ferrari rival, Sebastian Vettel, who will seemingly start the campaign as the driver to beat.
Hamilton, who turned 34 at the beginning of the year, is gearing up for his 13th season in F1 and – following the retirement of Fernando Alonso – is now behind only Kimi Raikkonen in terms of grands prix appearances of the sport’s current crop.
Yet, the Englishman, who kept a low profile during the off-season, pointed to his extracurricular activities away from the race track, notably the recent launch of his second Tommy Hilfiger fashion range in Berlin, as a reason why he heads into the forthcoming campaign as motivated as ever.
“I have just come off my break and while I got to do a lot of things that I wanted to do, I have missed working,” he said.
“I am a workaholic. I love working with people and I feel as soon as I get back to work, I am living my purpose.
“Yes, there are things around the job that I could happily not do because I just want to go racing.
“I don’t struggle with the motivation for that. But, if I didn’t have the other things in my life, maybe that would be a different story.
“I am fortunate, however, that I have these other projects. I love going to fashion shows, and being involved in the collection with Tommy Hilfiger. It is awesome.”
Hamilton held the upper hand over Vettel last year and in 2017, winning back-to-back championships with two rounds to spare.
Mercedes, meanwhile, are chasing a record sixth driver and constructors’ championship double.
But on the eve of this weekend’s race, Hamilton’s Mercedes boss Toto Wolff warned: “Last year, we had to give it absolutely everything to come out on top, but from what we have learned so far, this year will be even tougher.
“It will push us to our limits – and that’s an exciting prospect for every single one of us. We’re ready for the fight.”
*Lewis Hamilton was speaking at the launch of the new range of PETRONAS Syntium with CoolTech at PETRONAS’ state-of-the-art Global Research & Technology Centre in Turin, Italy.
Lewis Hamilton‘s preparations for the Brazilian Grand Prix hit a minor bump after he suffered a mechanical issue in final practice.
The newly-crowned five-time world champion missed half of the one-hour session at the Interlagos circuit when puffs of white engine smoke emerged from his Mercedes during his opening lap.
Hamilton was sidelined for the best part of 30 minutes as his Mercedes crew discovered a breather pipe had dislodged from his engine.
The Englishman, 33, headed back to the track once the problem had been resolved by his mechanics, and posted a time good enough for second.
He trailed Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel by 0.217 seconds, while Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas finished third ahead of Kimi Raikkonen in the other Ferrari.
Hamilton is back in action this weekend for the first time since winning his fifth championship in Mexico and emulating Juan Manuel Fangio’s title tally a fortnight ago.
Fangio’s nephew, Juan Manuel Fangio II, and the president of the Fangio Museum in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Antonio Mandiola, are guests of Hamilton’s Mercedes team here for the penultimate round of the season.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who won in Mexico, and his team-mate Daniel Ricciardo finished fifth and sixth respectively.
As Lewis Hamilton celebrated his fifth championship, and yet more riches, in the breathless Mexico City air, it was a world away from his humble beginnings on a Stevenage council estate.
It is easy to forget, now that he has earned a fortune of some £170million and emulated Argentinian great Juan Manuel Fangio’s tally of titles, quite what a trailblazer the young Hamilton was.
Breaking down racial barriers during a prodigious career as a junior karter, he summoned the courage to seek out McLaren boss Ron Dennis.
Hamilton was aged just 10, and wearing a borrowed dinner jacket at a central London awards ceremony, when he asked Dennis if he could drive for him. Dennis wrote in the youngster’s autograph book: “Phone me in nine years, and we’ll sort something out then.”
Hamilton did not have to wait that long. Just three years later, he signed for McLaren and was provided with a magic carpet into Formula One as the most prepared driver in the sport’s history.
Once there, he would build on the natural talent drawn from his early career which was funded by his father Anthony, who worked four jobs to set his son on the path to greatness.
On his debut in 2007, Hamilton became the first black driver to race in Formula One’s white-dominated world. He dazzled under Australian skies, before recording his first victory in June at the Canadian Grand Prix. Remarkably, he came within a single point of winning the championship in his debut year.
Twelve months later, and in typically dramatic style in Brazil, the moment arrived. Hamilton sealed his maiden title at the last corner on the last lap in the last race of the year.
He continued to notch up victories, 21 in all with McLaren, but a second championship would elude him there. The team were unable to provide him with a car quick enough to take the challenge to Sebastian Vettel, and Hamilton jealously watched on as Vettel reeled off four championships in a Red Bull superior to his McLaren machinery.
Disillusioned by failure, Hamilton, who had by now severed managerial ties with his father, considered walking away from the sport. He then took the brave decision to join Mercedes.
It was his move to the Silver Arrows which would act as a prelude to the almost unprecedented run of success which has seen Hamilton take four of the last five championships, win 50 further races, and stand alone as the man with more pole positions (81) than anyone who has gone before.
Increasingly a fixture of the celebrity scene, and the most recognisable F1 superstar since Michael Schumacher won five consecutive championships with Ferrari at the turn of the century, Hamilton would meet his nemesis in the form of his old karting team-mate Nico Rosberg.
WOW WOW WOW WOW WOW— PETRONAS Motorsports (@PET_Motorsports) 28 October 2018
That’s 5 wow’s for 5 very special championship wins
Words cannot describe how proud we are of @LewisHamilton and the whole @MercedesAMGF1 team
One team. One dream.#HiFive ✋ #PETRONASmotorsports #f1 pic.twitter.com/G7omUpTYpZ
Although Hamilton would claim his second and third championships in 2014 and 2015, Rosberg would become the only man to beat him over a meaningful season. And, perhaps fearing he may never be able to reach such lofty heights again, the German retired just days after his 2016 triumph, denying Hamilton the chance of revenge.
His vengeance would instead come against another German. Vettel had now ditched Red Bull for the allure of Ferrari. Their battle was billed as a mouth-watering cocktail of the two most decorated drivers of their generation going head-to-head, but it was Hamilton who had more ice in his glass.
Just as in Mexico in 2017, the Briton, aged 33 and two decades after he signed for McLaren, was on Sunday crowned king of the world with two races to spare.
Earlier this year, Hamilton signed a contract to become F1’s first £40million-a-season driver, staying at Mercedes until 2020. And suddenly, Schumacher’s haul of seven titles – one many thought would never be equalled – is now firmly in sight.