Sir Lewis Hamilton insists that he has no hard feelings towards Max Verstappen after his controversial championship defeat in 2021, affirming that any driver would take advantage of the situation that was in front of the Dutchman in December.
Verstappen claimed the title on the very last lap of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last year after race director Michael Masi made the controversial decision to allow a limited number of lapped runners to pass the Safety Car.
The Dutchman used his fresh tyres to take full advantage of the unprecedented situation and the 37-year-old was quick to congratulate the new world champion after the race at the Yas Marina Circuit.
He took nearly two months away to process what had happened as he missed out on a record eighth world title, but he maintains that his issue lies with the pivotal decisions that led to his defeat, not with the newly crowned world champion.
“This has nothing to do with Max,” he told media after the launch of the W13 on Friday.
“Max did everything a driver would do, given the opportunity he was given.”
The Briton went through a tumultuous and brutal championship fight with his young rival last year, and hopes for another enticing battle this season too.
“He’s a great competitor and we will go into another battle like we did last year and conduct ourselves, hopefully… we’ll obviously grow from our races and experiences we had last year also through the season, but [I’ve got] no issues with him,” he expressed.
“I don’t hold any grudges with anybody; I never think that’s ever a good thing to carry around with you.
“I move forwards. I don’t dwell on the past. I feel fresh, I feel centred and fully focused.”
The 103-time race winner is adamant that the heartbreak of the end of last season is not going to weigh on him and he embarks on his 10th season with Mercedes.
“I don’t have anything over my shoulders holding me back this year. Not that I did last year, but I’m not letting that experience be one of those,” he explained.
Formula 1 is packing a record 23 races into just eight months in 2022 and, while the Briton concedes that this is an inevitably difficult challenge, he feels physically ready to go for the new season.
“With these long seasons, the off-time isn’t as long as you would hope for, and it seems to get shorter and shorter,” he explained.
“But I think over the years, I’ve learned how to be efficient with my time, with my recovery, with training and building back up both your body and your mind – I feel great, I feel fit.”
He declared that losing the title due to what many perceive were gravely unfair circumstances will drive and motivate him to find a new level this year, and indicated that his form at the back end of 2021 will be even further enhanced in the forthcoming campaign.
“Naturally, when you have an extra year of experience under your belt, that always helps,” he added.
“I always feel like, through these sorts of experiences, you can turn that emotion into strength and into power, and that’s what I’m doing.
“I’m putting that into my training, putting that into the work that I have with the men and women here in this team, and if you think what you saw at the end of the last year was my best, wait until you see this year…”
New FIA president has removed Masi from his role as race director since the controversial events in the UAE capital, and has replaced him with alternating race directors Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas.
They will be supported by the returning Herbie Blash as well as a virtual control room.