Lewis Hamilton has admitted that he did consider walking away from Formula 1 in the wake of the Melbourne 'lies' scandal into which he and McLaren-Mercedes have plunged – and he revealed that he decided to stay thanks to the support of his fans.
The defending world champion and his team are due to appear before the FIA's World Motor Sport Council in Paris on Wednesday charged with bringing the sport into disrepute by breaching article 151c of the International Sporting Code. Both Hamilton and respected long-time McLaren sporting director Dave Ryan were found guilty of supplying 'deliberately misleading' information to Albert Park stewards over a contentious incident in the curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne last month, when the British star passed and subsequently let re-pass the Toyota of Jarno Trulli under the late-race safety car period – ostensibly in an effort to get the Italian penalised and inherit third position by default.
Aside from disqualification from the race and a public mauling after the FIA disclosed pit-to-car radio communications that proved Hamilton and Ryan to have been rather less-than truthful with the stewards, the Woking-based outfit now faces potential further sanctions – going as far as exclusion from the entire season. With his once shining reputation continuing to barely hang by a thread, the nine-time grand prix-winner confessed that these have been soul-searching times.
“I wasn't 100 per cent sure I wanted to be here for the next five years,” the 24-year-old told BBC Sport
, alluding to the length of his current McLaren contract. “There was so much going on. Do I want to be in the limelight with people slating me? Do I want be in the spotlight where I can't even go to go to the fish and chip shop or the cinema and have fun without people taking pictures of me?
“If I want to race this car, though, and if I want to continue doing this, that's what I've got to do. I definitely have [made that decision] – and it's because of my fans. Regardless of what anyone else says, I'm going to go out there and give it 100 per cent always.
“There will be times when I don't do so well – I'm human, you know – but there will be times when I rock the socks off it, and I hope you enjoy it. They (his fans) are going to continue to support me and I really just want to embrace them and say thank you to all of them. They've been fantastic.”
Hamilton made an emotional public plea to those same fans a week on from the controversy in Sepang, repeatedly insisting that he is 'not a liar' – but the glare of the public and media focus on him tracking his every move refuses to go away. That pressure has also cast into doubt the strength of his ties with McLaren in the light of the multiple world championship-winning concern's latest high-profile calamity. Whether that relationship – one that began more than a decade ago when the Stevenage-born ace was still in karting – can be repaired, and whether he still wishes to see out his five-year agreement, remain to be seen.
“My commitment should never be questioned,” he urged, “because I'm very committed to the sport and I'm very, very committed to my team. I love this team. I have been here for many years – since I was ten-years-old I said this was who I wanted to drive for, and I'm driving for them now.
“We won a world championship together, we just missed a world championship together and there's going to be many, many more years when we win and lose. We'll have bad seasons, but the great thing is that we're a team. It's very much a family environment. I'm happy where I am. When I spoke out, it was because I wasn't 100 per cent sure I would be here for the next five years.”