Lewis Hamilton tells Sky Sports F1 he feels in shape to make a big impact at Mercedes
Watch the full extended version of Johnny Herbert's exclusive interview for Sky Sports F1 with Lewis here
By James Galloway. Last Updated: 11/03/13 4:03pm
Lewis Hamilton has told Sky Sports F1 he is ready to take his new life at Mercedes "one step at a time" - and that he would settle for any place on the podium at next week's season-opening Australian GP.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with Sky F1's Johnny Herbert ahead of his debut for Mercedes in Melbourne next weekend, the 2008 World Champion said his winter switch to his new Brackley team had accelerated his ongoing career learning process ahead of his seventh season at the top level.
And while admitting the competitiveness of his W04 car would to a large extent dictate what he ultimately can achieve in 2013, Lewis expressed optimism that he was in good shape to tackle the new season.
"I really feel like I've been learning quite a lot - particularly in the last year," Hamilton told Johnny.
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"It was a real good year for me in terms of certain mistakes and I felt like I was growing a lot as a driver.
"This experience I've had [at Mercedes] over the past couple of months working with these new engineers and seeing all these new things that I can learn, I've realised, wow, there's so much more I can learn as well.
"But on the driving side I feel quite solid; I feel that's been a really good area for me. So I'm really hoping that with all the lessons that I've learnt I've got a stronger platform to work off this year.
"I've got to have the car still, but I feel like I'm able to have more of an impact here."
Hamilton explained that he was also indirectly learning from his predecessor at Mercedes, seven-times World Champion Michael Schumacher
"They [Mercedes] just do different things," he added. "From their previous experience of what their previous driver wanted, [it] was a lot different to what I have experienced, or even knew that I was able to have.
"So there's many more options that I'm actually finding 'oh wow, I didn't even know you could look at that into great detail'. So I'm learning all these new things which is great."
Having completed six days of on-track testing with his new team across the past month, the 28-year-old will experience his first race weekend in Mercedes colours in Australia next week, with the team's strong end to pre-season heightening expectations of what the new combination can achieve in 2013.
Even prior to joining Mercedes in January, Hamilton had already all-but written off his chances of fighting for this season's title owing to the position Mercedes found themselves in at the end of last year, when they were over a second off the pace set by McLaren and Red Bull.
Speaking to Johnny, while Hamilton conceded that it would be counterproductive to rule out a championship bid before a wheel had even been turned in racing anger, he reiterated that any wins this year would be a "bonus" and he was fully prepared for a building year.
"Our goal is always to win every year but you have to be very realistic and that's what we have to be this year," Hamilton insisted.
"It would be wrong of me to say that we don't want to win the World Championship this year - every guy or girl that's working flat out at the factory wants us to win, they want us to succeed this year, as do I.
"But I think we have to take it one step at a time. It's going to take some time and if it means that we build a foundation this year, and then we have a chance to win it next year, then great. If we have a chance of winning at some point this year then that's going to be a bonus for us because the team was fifth [in the Constructors' Championship] last year. If I can work with Nico [Rosberg] and get them higher in the championship this year that will be a real positive."
Hamilton teams up with his long-time friend Rosberg for the first time since the pair were team-mates when junior McLaren/Mercedes-backed teenage karters at the turn of the century, with the match-up of the two Grand Prix winners one of the most eagerly-anticipated on the 2013 grid.
Asked by Johnny if he would have to eventually sacrifice their friendship in order to win championships at Mercedes, Hamilton replied: "Every driver has to make sacrifices and I think [in] relationships, as long as you respect one another, that's the most important thing. So as long as we keep that respect between each other [then it will be fine].
"Undoubtedly when you have that fierce competitiveness and competition it brings stress on the relationship, but that's the way it is. I remember years ago when we were brought together as team-mates, Ron [Dennis] sat us down in Hockenheim in 1997 and he said 'are you guys going to be mature enough to be team-mates and remain friends?' And we did it back then and I don't see why we can't do it now."
Hamilton is widely expected to have the upper hand over Rosberg over the course of a full season, but the 21-time GP winner stressed he wouldn't have it all his own way.
"It's going to be neck-and-neck I'm sure and hopefully the best man will win," he said. "But at some stages, without doubt, there will be some races that he wins, some races that I win - or I beat him and visa-versa - and that's the name of the game."
And looking ahead to his debut alongside Rosberg in Melbourne, Hamilton said he would be more than happy to open his campaign with the same third-placed result he achieved for McLaren last year, even though that particular result was a relative disappointment at the time given he had started on pole.
"Right now I'd definitely take a third - I think it would be a massive positive for the team and would be a very good starting step for us," he added.