Fresh from a glorious season-saving triumph at one of his favourite venues, Lewis Hamilton sets out to tame his wayward ‘diva’ of a Mercedes car again this weekend as the Formula One circus endures sizzling heat at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
The three-time world champion Briton’s victory, his sixth at the Canadian Grand Prix, earlier this month hauled him back within 12 points of championship leader German Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari and sharpened his appetite for a maiden success on the streets of Baku, the only venue on the current calendar where he has never won.
“I was very quick there last year, but I just didn’t deliver,” said Hamilton. “So, this time, the plan is to make sure I deliver…”
After an inconsistent ‘rollercoaster’ opening to the season in which he and Mercedes team-mate Finn Valtteri Bottas have struggled badly at times, Hamilton bounced back to his best in Montreal to claim his third win in seven races as Mercedes produced a crushing one-two success.
He arrives in Baku with team boss Toto Wolff’s praise endorsing his behaviour and performances. “Lewis is in the best place I’ve seen him in any of the five years since I joined the team,” said Wolff.
“Not just because of Montreal, where he had a great weekend, but also because he is coping so well with the more difficult days.
“It’s what the best are made of – when the going is tough, they get over it. They maximise their opportunities. And it’s a long championship.”
Referring to this year’s ‘new era’ car, Wolff admitted it had posed challenges for the team and the drivers with its contrary and temperamental nature: happy and triumphant one week, sulky and unresponsive the next.
“We’ve joked about it, saying it is a bit of a diva,” he said. “But it’s a good car, but sometimes it can be a bit difficult! We have to accept that and understand and appreciate the positives that it has.
“I think it is the fastest on the grid and I wouldn’t want any other.”
In last year’s European Grand Prix in Baku, Hamilton struggled, found some pace, crashed in qualifying and, from tenth on the grid, battled with engine setting problems to finish fifth.
“You learn from each experience,” he said. “You pile them up. We learned in Monaco, too, and we will use it. Downforce is going to be important.”
Tolerance of the forecast heat will also be important as the ambient air temperatures touch 40 degrees Celsius, a factor that will affect tyre performance for every team.
Vettel and Ferrari, traditionally strong in the hottest conditions, will hope to bounce back on a circuit where Hamilton’s previous Mercedes team-mate retired 2016 champion German Nico Rosberg took pole and won last year.
Four-time champion Vettel left Canada unhappy at his own result despite a stirring drive through the field to finish fourth after a first lap collision required a pit-stop.
“I wanted a trophy,” he said. “But I didn’t get one…”
Hamilton was also in the news for comments made in an interview when he was asked about his future and said he had considered following former team-mate German Nico Rosberg’s example and retiring at the end of the season.
Rosberg stopped racing for Mercedes after winning the 2016 world championship.
Hamilton said: “My destiny is in my own hands. I can decide to stop at the end of this year… Does that mean my legacy is less great than it would be if I stop in five years' time? Who's to say?
"I don't like to plan for it because I don't know what's around the corner, I don't know what I'm going to do
“Whatever I know I'm going to do, if I apply myself the way I've always applied myself in my racing and I apply it to anything else I want to do in life, or even if it's still in racing, I feel I can achieve great things.
"I'm never going to stop pushing the limits of whatever it is I do with myself and I'm always going to strive for greatness in whatever world it is that I'm in. So I think that mission or that mentality will create my legacy."