Q&A with Lewis Hamilton ahead of the 2011 Santander Italian Grand Prix

Q&A with Lewis Hamilton ahead of the 2011 Santander Italian Grand Prix

It’s the Italian Grand Prix from Monza this weekend and we thought it would be interesting to look at Lewis Hamilton’s state of mind, two-thirds of the way into the 2011 season.

This has been Lewis’ most dissapointing season in F1 to date, admidst criticism that his celebrity lifestyle may be hindering his Formula One career.

To set the record straight, Lewis wanted to speak about the race and the preparations he makes as he approaches the unique challenge of Monza.

Questions and Answers

Lewis, can you describe the challenge of racing at Monza?
Monza’s unique. It’s a real challenge for the drivers because you go there with a special lowdownforce aero package that makes the car feel completely different. It accelerates faster, but it also feels quite unstable compared to normal and you have much less grip through the corners. You have to drive the car a bit like a go kart.

Do you expect the MP4-26 to be competitive?
Last year I won at Spa and failed to finish at Monza, so I’m looking to reverse that sequence this year! I think we’ll be massively competitive at Monza because we’re on full-throttle for 83 percent of the lap and we have a very powerful and driveable engine in the Mercedes V8. The balance of our car is also good and I’m expecting it to ride the kerbs well. You have to hammer the chicanes if you want to be quick and not all the drivers feel comfortable doing that, but I have an aggressive driving style and don’t mind!

What would it mean to win at Monza?
It’s one of the classic races on the calendar and I’d love to win it. I haven’t had much luck at the track for the last two years, but it’s a place that I associate with good memories. I won the GP2 Series at the track in 2006 and it was that same weekend that Ron [Dennis, Chairman of the McLaren Group] told me he was going to give me a chance. I finished second here in 2007 and I’d love to go one better this year.

Do you get used to driving at speeds in excess of 220mph?
You do and, as a result, you have to be very careful not to exceed the pit lane speed limit when you come into the pits. Monza is a track that you have to respect because of the high speeds involved. In 2009 I was pushing hard at the end of the race and I lost it between the two Lesmos. I hit the barrier on the inside and it was quite an impact. I definitely don’t want to be doing that again!

What’s it like performing in front of Ferrari’s home crowd?
It doesn’t worry me. If anything, the support for Ferrari spurs everyone at McLaren on! We get a fantastic reception as well: there’s some light-hearted banter from the grandstands, and there are some in the crowd that support us!

Does the history of Monza mean anything to you?
It’s pretty spectacular to see the old banking right next to the pits. I tried walking up it once, but it wasn’t possible. I had to get down on all fours and actually climb up it! You have to wonder how many cars disappeared over the top of the banking because there was only one layer of Armco holding them in if they had failures.

Would you have been happy to race on Monza’s banking 50 years ago?
It was dangerous, but I would have raced on it back then. It must have been thrilling to drive around a really high speed corner. You probably think I’m nuts, but I’ve always been like that. When I was a kid, if someone told me not to do something because it was dangerous, I’d go and do it!