Former world champion Lewis Hamilton has warned his F1 2011 rivals that he is 'in the best shape I've ever been' heading into the forthcoming campaign – one that has been widely-tipped to be every bit as thrilling if not even more so than the previous one.
Hamilton wound up fourth in the final standings in 2010, following a characteristically gritty and determined effort in which he never once gave up and took the fight for glory right the way down to the wire in the nail-biting Abu Dhabi finale.
McLaren-Mercedes' 'innovative' MP4-26 was officially unveiled last week in Berlin's Potsdamer Platz – and the British star immediately described it as the most attractive of all of the new contenders. Now, he just hopes it goes as fast as it looks – and he is convinced it will.
“I've kept a close eye on all the cars that have been launched so far, and they generally seem to be evolutions of previous years' cars,” the 26-year-old mused. “I think we've come up with something that's quite innovative – I think it looks fantastic, really, even better than I'd expected.
“I've been here since 2007, and the car has evolved every year. I think it's shaped so much better than any other car I've seen so far this year, and I hope that leads to a good feeling out on the track, too – I'm excited about getting out in it!
“McLaren and Mercedes have such a great history, and I'm very fortunate to have been a part of that for the past five years. They have a great heritage in the sport, and some great past drivers and world champions, too. The environment inside the factory is fantastic – everybody has such a passion for racing.”
Revealing that he likes to treat his car 'like she's a lady' and confessing that 'it's incredible to think I've come this far' since making his debut in the top flight just four years ago, Hamilton went on to pick out his four fellow title-winners on the F1 2011 starting grid as well as 'several other drivers' whom he rates capable of doing battle for the crown this year – but he insists that he is more than ready to take them all on.
“I had a great off-season,” the14-time grand prix-winner recalled. “I spent a bit of time in December working with the engineers and in the simulator, trying to see where we could improve from 2010 to 2011. Then I went away and trained for five weeks at high-altitude in the mountains, which was nice and cold! It was great training, and I now feel in the best shape I've ever been. When I got back into the car for two days (in Valencia testing last week), it was actually pretty easy.
“I think 2011 does have all the ingredients to be a classic season. Last year was one of the best in F1, and we enjoyed it right to the end of the year. This year, whilst the regulations have changed and teams have stepped up their games, I think it will be just as competitive a season – but I think we'll be quite a bit stronger than we were last year, too...”