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.”

Alexander Rossi ‘fits like a glove’ with his new IndyCar teammates at Arrow McLaren Racing

Alexander Rossi McLaren
Nate Ryan
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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – There are more than three dozen fresh faces on the Arrow McLaren Racing IndyCar team, but there was one that Felix Rosenqvist was particularly keen to know – Alexander Rossi.

The driver of the No. 7 Dallara-Chevrolet is the most high-profile new hire for McLaren, which has expanded to a third car to pair with the No. 6 of Rosenqvist and No. 5 of Pato O’Ward.

And there is another layer than Rossi just being the new kid. McLaren marks only his second team in NTT IndyCar Series after seven seasons at Andretti Autosport, where he began with a victory in the 2016 Indy 500 and was a championship contender for several seasons.

Rossi is a mercurial talent, and when things go wrong, the red mist quickly descends (and sometimes has led to feuds with teammates). He went winless during two of his final seasons at Andretti and was out of contention more often than not, often bringing out the prickly side of his personality.

Yet there has been no trace of the dour Rossi since joining McLaren. The pragmatic Californian is quick to remind everyone he hasn’t worked with the team yet at a track (much less been in its car), and there surely will be times he gets frustrated.

But it’s clear that Rossi, who made five Formula One starts in 2015 after several years racing in Europe, already is meshing well with an organization whose England-based parent company has deep roots in F1.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised,” Rosenqvist said Tuesday during IndyCar’s preseason media availabilities. “I think Alex kind of has that bad-guy role a little bit in IndyCar. He’s always been that guy, which is cool. I think we need those guys, as well.

“Actually having gotten to know him, he’s been super nice, super kind. He fits like a glove in the team. I think it fills a role where Pato is kind of like the crazy guy, I’m somewhere in the middle, and Alex is the more engineering guy in the team. I think Alex has more experience, as well. He just feels like a guy who knows what he wants.

“Yeah, good addition to the team and great guy at the same time.”

There are many reasons why Rossi’s transition from Andretti to McLaren should be smoother than his abrupt move from F1 to IndyCar seven years ago. Namely, he no longer is the only newcomer to the team’s culture.

“It’s been kind of a good time to come in because everyone is finding a new role and position and kind of learning who’s who, finding everyone’s strengths and weaknesses,” he said.

But while Rossi might have questions about the team, he has none about the series. Unlike when he arrived at Andretti without any oval experience, Rossi joins McLaren with his IndyCar credentials secured as an established star with eight victories, seven poles and 28 podiums over 114 starts.

Even in his swan song with Andretti, Rossi still managed a farewell victory last July at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course that snapped a 49-race, three-year winless drought. It seems reasonable to believe he immediately could re-emerge in his 2017-19 title contender form.

“I know the series, and I know kind of everything that goes into American open-wheel racing vs. the European open-wheel racing, which is really the biggest transition,” Rossi said. “Certainly it’s the largest kind of team switch. I’ve obviously driven for different teams in the past in Europe, in sports cars, whatever, but never really in my full-time job. I’ve driven for the same organization for a very long time and have a lot of respect and fabulous memories with those people.

“So it has been a big kind of shift, trying to compare and contrast areas that I can bring kind of recommendations and experience to maybe help fill the gaps that exist at Arrow McLaren. Again, all of this is in theory, right? I don’t really know anything. We’ll have a much better idea and plan going into St. Pete (the March 5 season opener).”

He has gotten a good handle on how things work at its Indianapolis headquarters, though, and has been pleased by the leadership of new racing director Gavin Ward (who worked in F1 before a championship stint with Josef Newgarden at Team Penske). McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown also seems omnipresent on both sides of the Atlantic, making appearances at IndyCar races seemingly as much as in the F1 paddock.

“I think what’s very cool about Arrow McLaren is we do have the resources of the McLaren F1 team,” Rossi said. “They very much are being integrated in a lot of respects. It’s not two separate entities. McLaren Racing is one organization that has its people and resources and intellect in kind of everything. It’s been pretty cool to see how that can be an advantage to us in terms of people, resources, simulations, software, kind of everything. We’ve been able to kind of rely on that and use that as a tool that maybe other teams certainly don’t have.”

That will be helpful for Rossi with the methodologies and nuances of racing a Chevrolet for the first time after seven seasons with Honda.

And of course, there will be the relationship with O’Ward, who has been McLaren’s alpha star since 2020.

Rossi was in a similar role for Andretti, which raises questions about how McLaren will handle having two stars accustomed to being the face of the team. But O’Ward said IndyCar regulations should allow each driver to maintain their own style without being forced to adapt as in other series.

“At the end of the day, as much as teammates will help in order to gather data, it doesn’t mean they’re going to specifically help you in what you need because it’s a series where you can really tailor the car to what you want,” O’Ward said. “Rather than in Formula 1, (it’s) ‘This is the car, you need to learn how to drive this certain car.’ In IndyCar, it’s very different where you can customize it to what you want it to feel like or drive like.

“From past experience, I think Alex likes a car similar to what I do. I do think we have a very strong car in certain areas, but I definitely think he’s coming from a car where that other car has been stronger than us in other racetracks. I feel like if we can just find gains where we haven’t quite had a winning car, a podium car, that’s just going to help all of us.”

Though Thursday at The Thermal Club will mark the first time the trio works together at a track, Rosenqvist said he’s hung out a lot with Rossi (both are 31 years old) and deems his new teammate “well-integrated” in the simulator.

“I think the fit has been good with him, me and Pato,” Rosenqvist said. “On a trackside perspective, it’s obviously huge to have always a third opinion on things. Every driver’s opinion is valuable in its own way.”

Said O’Ward, 23: “It’s been great. (Rossi has) been great to have around. I think he needed a fresh start. I think he’s excited to really work with all of us, create the strongest package.”

Ever the realist, though, Rossi still is tempering some of his enthusiasm.

“Again, we haven’t really done anything yet other than some meetings and some team activities together,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for what they’ve done in IndyCar and also their prior careers. I think that we all bring something a little bit different to the table, which I think is really unique in terms of not only personalities but driving styles and experience levels.

“I think we have the ingredients to really be able to develop the team and continue to push the team forward to even a better level than what they’ve shown in the past. It’s been a really positive experience. Really I have nothing at all negative to say and can’t actually wait to get to work, get on track and start working together.”