Lewis Hamilton never considered quitting F1 during two-month break after controversy

Lewis Hamilton quitting F1
Irwen Song ATPImages/Getty Images
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Lewis Hamilton insisted Friday he never considered quitting Formula One in protest while the Mercedes driver took nearly two months away in an emotional recovery from the controversial F1 finale that cost him a record an eighth championship.

Once he accepted the results, Hamilton put the debacle behind him and began preparation for the upcoming season.

“Whilst moments like this might define careers, I refuse to let this define mine,” Hamilton said from Mercedes’ team headquarters in Brackley, England.

Hamilton dominated the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in December and was five laps away from breaking a tie with Michael Schumacher for most titles in F1 history. But a Nicholas Latifi crash brought out a caution and set in motion a frenzied sequence of events that altered the finish.

Race director Michael Masi changed his mind when deciding how to conclude the race, and Max Verstappen, who had pitted for fresh tires, was lined up second behind Hamilton with all lapped traffic removed between title contenders on a restart with one lap remaining. Hamilton on old tires had little chance to defend Verstappen, who passed the British driver to win his first world title.

The FIA announced sweeping changes Thursday to its race control procedures and removed Masi as race director following an extensive review of the season finale.

Mercedes has accepted the results of the review and Hamilton said he’s ready for another run at the record book. Hamilton said he takes no issue with Verstappen and has been in contact to offer “my full support” to Latifi, who received death threats following the finale.

“I don’t hold any grudges with anybody; I never think that’s ever a good thing to carry around with you,” he said. “I moved forwards. I don’t dwell on the past. I feel centered and fully focused. I don’t have anything over my shoulders holding me back this year.

“If you think what you saw at the end of the last year was my best, wait to see this year.”

Hamilton won three consecutive races to tie Verstappen in the standings heading into the finale in Abu Dhabi. He dominated the race and led 51 of the 58 laps; Verstappen led only the final lap in winning the title.

Hamilton gave just one brief interview after climbing from his car but appeared shell-shocked on the podium as Verstappen and Red Bull celebrated. He skipped the mandatory postrace news conference, boycotted the season-ending gala, and made just one public appearance – three days after the race when Hamilton received his knighthood at Windsor Castle.

Hamilton’s retreat from the public eye did little to quell speculation he was so disgruntled that he was considering walking away from F1 after 103 victories over 15 seasons. He finally re-emerged earlier this month with a social media post, then participated Friday in Mercedes’ launch of its car for the upcoming season.

Hamilton took questions for about 20 minutes Friday and said he spent the time after Abu Dhabi with his entire family – a rare moment they were all together in the same place – as he “just unplugged. Switched off.” He said he focused on being present with his loved ones and has not watched a replay of the race, feeling no urge to revisit the event.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said he was “never concerned” that Hamilton would retire.

“We knew he needed to take the time to reflect on things and particularly to understand how he would return in the right frame of mind,” Wolff said. “I think what he did was absolutely right to take himself out of the microcosm of Formula One and step aside. He has come back in a great mindset. He’s positive, he’s determined and he, yet again, adversity that was thrown at him will make him stronger. It’s attack mode.”

Hamilton turned 37 last month and will be paired with fellow British driver George Russell this season as Russell moved from Williams to Mercedes. He said he’s as committed as ever to racing for another title.

“I think at the end of seasons, the question is whether you are willing to commit the time, the effort, that it takes to be a world champion,” Hamilton said. “Do you want to sacrifice the time? Do you believe that you can continue to punch higher than the weight you are punching?

“That’s a normal mental process for me, but of course this one was compounded by a significant factor, and I think ultimately a sport that I loved my whole life, there was a moment that I lost a little bit of faith within the system. But I’m generally a very determined person. I am focused on being the best I can be and coming back stronger.”

Starting lineup grid for IMSA Petit Le Mans: Tom Blomqvist puts MSR on pole position

Petit Le Mans lineup
IMSA
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IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship contender Tom Blomqvist put the Meyer Shank Racing Acura at the front of the starting lineup for the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta.

Blomqvist turned a 1-minute, 8.55-second lap on the 2.54-mile circuit Friday to capture his third pole position for MSR this season. Earl Bamber qualified second in the No. 02 Cadillac for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ricky Taylor was third in the No. 10 Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing, which enters Saturday’s season finale with a 19-point lead over the No. 60 of Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves) for the 10-hour race.

PETIT LE MANS STARTING GRID: Click here for the starting lineup l Lineup by car number

PETIT LE MANS: Info on how to watch

With the pole, MSR sliced the deficit to 14 points behind WTR, which will field the trio of Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Brendon Hartley in Saturday’s race.

“We really needed to put the car in this kind of position,” Blomqvist said. “It makes our life a little less stressful tomorrow. It would have given the No. 10 a bit more breathing space. It’s going to be a proper dogfight tomorrow. The guys gave me such a great car. It’s been fantastic this week so far, and it really came alive. I’m hugely thankful to the boys and girls at MSR for giving me the wagon today to execute my job.

“That was a big effort from me. I knew how important it was. It’s just awesome for the guys to give them some sort of reward as well. It’s always nice to be quick. If you do the pole, you know you’ve got a quick car.”

Though WTR has a series-leading four victories with the No. 10, MSR won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and has five runner-up finishes along with its three poles.

The strong performances of the ARX-05s ensure that an Acura will win the final championship in IMSA’s premier Daytona Prototype international (DPi) division, which is being rebranded as Grand Touring Prototype in the move to LMDh cars next season.

Taylor qualified third despite sliding into the Turn 5 gravel during the closing minutes of qualifying while pushing to gain points.

“Qualifying was important for points,” Taylor said. “Going into it, if we outqualified the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura, they had a lot to lose in terms of championship points. So, we were trying to increase the gap over 20 points which would’ve made a big difference for tomorrow. We would have loved to get the pole and qualify ahead of the No. 60, but in the scheme of the points, it didn’t change a whole lot. I’m feeling good since it’s such a long race, and the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura team does such a good job strategizing and putting us in a good position.

“I’m very confident in our lineup and our team compared to them over the course of 10 hours. I’d put my two teammates up against those guys any day. I think we are all feeling optimistic and strong for tomorrow.”

In other divisions, PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports (LMP2), Riley Motorsports (LMP3), VasserSullivan (GTD Pro) and Paul Miller Racing (GTD) captured pole positions.

The broadcast of the 10-hour race will begin Saturday at 12:10-3 p.m. ET on NBC, moving at 7 p.m. to USA Network. Peacock will have flag-to-flag coverage.


QUALIFYING

Results

Results by class

Fastest lap by driver

Fastest lap by driver after qualifying

Fastest lap by driver and class after qualifying

Fastest lap sequence in qualifying

Best sector times in qualifying

Time cards in qualifying

PRACTICE RESULTS: Session I l Session II l Session III