Lewis Hamilton carved a special place in Formula 1 history this season with his fourth world title and a new all-time record for pole positions.
In what was arguably the best season he has driven in his 11 years in F1, Hamilton won nine races in his Mercedes, set 11 poles and clinched the title with two races still to go.
Hamilton also changed his lifestyle to pursue a vegan diet and became more outspoken on global issues.
It was a historic season for other reasons, too – F1 introduced major rule changes that made the cars wider, faster, more dramatic, and also harder to race.
Here, the 32-year-old reflects on some of the key subjects of 2017, starting with the 11 pole positions that moved him past Ayrton Senna and then Michael Schumacher in the history books.
What was your best qualifying lap of the year?
Dude, I can’t remember. I can barely remember the last few days.
There have been some very special laps, though.
The poles in Silverstone, Monza in the wet and Malaysia seem to stand out – would you agree?
Monza was very tough. I was really surprised that the others (were so far away)… Malaysia; it was a real surprise to be on pole there.
I’d have to go and look at them (to give a definitive answer) because there are ones that felt better than others. Individually, they have not felt the same.
Malaysia, for example, I thought: “I’m probably not going to get pole today but I’m going to give it everything anyway.” Then somehow you hook up a lap. Because there were moments in that lap where there were drifts and you just held onto it and somehow hit the apex, still the drift, it actually set you up – which you weren’t planning but you take it.
Did the 2017 cars bring what you expected?
They brought exactly what I expected – worse racing.
What about the experience of driving them and the increased cornering speeds?
I didn’t really have an expectation. But they’ve been a big step in the right direction, much more enjoyable. Another step like this would be good – and bring some of the noise back.
There’s some great qualities of it but we need to put better bits in. For example, following (other cars) this year has been worse, naturally. They (F1’s bosses) know the issues and I think they should utilise us (the drivers) and speak to us.
Some of these guys – every guy, most likely – that’s on the board haven’t driven an F1 car and don’t know why it’s so hard to get past. But they’re also very smart and know stuff we don’t.
What have been the best corners this year, with the faster cars?
Pouhon at Spa – the high-speed corners this year have been, phwoar. The best corners of the season are generally Austin – Turns Three-Four-Five-Six-Seven. They are awesome. Silverstone – Copse and then Maggotts and Becketts. Suzuka – the Esses. They are the special ones.
For some reason Austin is the best set-up because there are different lines you can take within that. Suzuka, it is very hard to have a different line and race. That’s why I love Austin. Somehow the layout; I don’t think they planned it but it’s enabled it to be a track you can overtake on. It’s one of my favourite tracks, actually, and I don’t like new tracks usually.
Can you describe what it is like to drive these cars on the limit?
It’s difficult to describe. It’s like trying to describe how you felt when the baby came out.
The exciting thing is being on the limit. It’s getting out there and discovering the limit faster than everyone else and then when you get to that limit, playing with the limit. Then balancing on the edge. Controlling it. I love that.
Do you keep your knowledge of the limit in certain corners in the memory bank and the use it in qualifying?
For sure. That’s part of the discovery through practice. Which is how you see often in qualifying I can pull out a little bit more. You keep those things. I love the qualifying because you’re always trying to pull out another card. You can’t always do it.
At the Japanese Grand Prix, you said the Esses were “insane”. So are the cars approaching the physical limits of human beings? If they were any faster would you struggle to cope?
Yeah, but I want that. The problem is you build yourself. The human body’s quite remarkable because you can build the strength. So make the cars another three seconds faster; it’s going to be a challenge but F1 should push you so much to the limit physically. I love that. That’s where we should be. I hope we move more in that direction.
Why do the cars not seem to slide as much as they did, say, 20 years ago?
The tyres are not so forgiving. Back then, there was a lot less aero(dynamic grip), more mechanical. Which I think is what we need.
It’s like karting. With karting you don’t have (tyre) degradation. And with all the aero on the cars, you get that slide, and you often can’t get the heat out of the tyre (afterwards). The key is to keep temperatures down, minimise wheelspin. Any slip you have… it feels good but you know it’s going to affect you two corners later.
Where do you stand on the argument about track limits?
The FIA have done an amazing job but they’ve really got to stop with these run-off areas. You shouldn’t be able to cut a corner like you see.
What I love about the olden days – of course you don’t want to crash, but if you go wide, you’ve got to lose time. But now you can approach a corner knowing that if you go in 5% too much you can go wide and come back on. I don’t love that.
Other tracks I used to love were Oulton Park and Donington Park. Donington – the Old Hairpin was a nightmare. You have to come off the brakes and run the speed in, use the downforce.
Then up the hill and the second right-hander before the back straight (Coppice). You can’t even see the white line. There is a white line and then gravel and the gravel sucks you off – oh man.
Finding the limit there, that corner is way harder than all the corners in F1. That’s the sort of corner F1 is missing. If we had that back in F1, it would bring another level to the challenge.
You’ve talked about changing your diet and trying to go vegan this year. How has that changed you?
I do have more energy but before I had more than enough energy anyway. I just feel cleaner. I don’t feel bogged down, don’t have problems with my stomach like I used to have, just feel cleaner.
It’s hard to stay on the diet I’m on. Not at all the temptation. It’s actually really weird, once you get across that side. The other day I was at dinner and my friends were eating meat and I look at it and I’m disgusted and I used to love meat.
Can you still go in a steak restaurant but just eat other things?
I actually wouldn’t go. I was invited to a meal recently and I said: ‘Look, I’m really trying to stick to his diet I’m on and I don’t believe in supporting that restaurant.’
Struggling in finding foods that you love as much as foods you used to love is what it is. I live on salads. I have a lot more carbs now, which is weird because before I had cut my carbs completely and had a high protein diet but now I’m on salads, a lot of breads, pancakes.
So some things are really enjoyable but I’m still discovering. It does change your life. But I feel the best I’ve ever felt.
What led you to the decision?
I met people, friends who were vegans, who exposed me to some of the things that were happening that I was completely oblivious to.
It affected me so much when I saw these things (that meat-eating does). So bit by bit I weaned off it. Came off red meat two and a half years ago, stopped eating chicken at the beginning of this year and was pescatarian.
Then the final thing was seeing this one documentary. I’d seen a couple, but this one was, ‘OK, I’m done’.