Lewis Hamilton has admitted that he would be 'devastated' were his reputation to be 'tainted' like that of record-breaking multiple F1 World Champion Michael Schumacher – as the McLaren-Mercedes star insisted he wants to go down in grand prix history as a 'fair and clean' competitor who 'always drove with his heart'.
Schumacher has arrived in Monaco this weekend to a barrage of questions about his infamous 'parking' indiscretion at Rascasse during qualifying the last time he competed there back in 2006 [see separate story – click here
] – one of a number of incidents that has somewhat tarnished the German legend's global image and legacy, for all of the outstanding brilliance that yielded him an unparalleled seven world titles at the highest level.
Hamilton, of course, has already been caught up in a scandal of his own in Melbourne last year, but when asked by British media if he would like to be remembered in the years to come in a better light than his Mercedes Grand Prix rival – who is regarded alternately as a genius and a cheat – the Stevenage-born ace was quick to respond in the affirmative.
“When I think about history, it is not just about me, it is about how my family raised me, where we came from,” he explained. “For that to be tainted by something like that (Rascasse) would devastate me. When I leave F1, I want to be remembered as one of the best drivers of all time. I want to be remembered as a fair driver, a clean driver, one who always drove with his heart, who battled through thick and thin to score the points and the championships I will hopefully earn.”
Hamilton wound up seventh-quickest in both practice sessions on Thursday around the tight, tortuous, unforgiving streets of the glamorous Principality – a circuit at which his late, great hero Ayrton Senna triumphed on no fewer than six occasions, but one that broke the hearts of fellow world champions Nigel Mansell and Damon Hill, who never succeeded in ascending the top step of the rostrum there.
Whilst he clearly hopes for better come qualifying on Saturday, the 25-year-old street fighter was swift to dispel any notions that he needs to rapidly get back on terms with world championship-leading team-mate and compatriot Jenson Button, just behind him on the timing screens in both sessions.
“I don't feel I'm at the point where I need to 'turn it around',” he asserted, when asked if he is under pressure to get results. “What needs turning around is just my fortunes. It's not too late for me. You can make your own luck. The team and I just need to work together and make the right calls.
“Obviously, we weren't at the top of the timesheets [on Thursday], but I've really been enjoying driving around here. When you're in Monaco, things just seem to happen so much faster than normal – it feels two or three times quicker than at other circuits. You're always on the edge, and if you brake just a little bit too late then you'll be in the barrier. It's an incredible feeling.
“The driver with the biggest talent [and] the biggest balls should come out on top if he's got the car. At every track people say the car has everything to do with it, but the driver still has to pull something out of that car – and some can pull more out than others. This is a track where you have to have serious confidence in your car, the braking points, be confident with the barriers. I've never experienced anything like it anywhere. It's always been special for me – growing up, it was always the one I looked forward to watching most.
“More importantly, this year's car just feels fantastic – it's light years ahead of last year's car, and we made some good steps forward with the set-up. Of course, everyone at the front of the grid is looking pretty competitive, but I think we should be okay. Qualifying is going to be tough, but we'll do our homework and I hope the weather stays okay for us and that we can fight for a spot in the top three.”
“The morning felt good,” added Button, like Hamilton a previous Monaco Grand Prix winner. “We went through some positive set-up changes and I felt pretty happy with the car. For FP2 we made some further changes, but I don't think all of them were an improvement. Our long-run pace was good, though, so I'm feeling very happy about that. We've still got a little bit of work to do to understand what's best for low fuel and new tyres, but I think we understand where we've got to be, because we were on the pace in the morning.
“Overall, the Ferrari looks very quick and I'm pretty sure Red Bull are hiding their pace. It's the normal cars up at the front, and we'll get a better idea on Saturday morning. McLaren always produces a good car around Monaco; they've won 15 times here – more than anyone else – so hopefully we can do well on Saturday.”
Indeed, with arguably the second-fastest car in the field, the Woking-based outfit must surely fancy its chances of adding to that tremendous record of success this weekend – but team principal Martin Whitmarsh is well aware that around a track at which overtaking is so famously at a premium, securing strong grid spots in qualifying will be of absolutely pivotal importance.
“It was a very productive pair of sessions for us,” affirmed the Englishman, “even if we know we still have much to do to reach our ultimate potential around this most demanding of circuits. Jenson and Lewis got themselves dialled-in extremely quickly in the morning and were both happy with the car. In the afternoon, it seems like some of the changes we made between the sessions weren't as positive as we'd hoped, so we had to dial back on some of those.
“We've still got a few issues to resolve, but I'm sure we'll be competitive for the rest of the weekend. A quick look at the times would suggest that Saturday's qualifying session will be extremely tense and incredibly closely-fought – which is fantastic for Formula 1.”