Lewis Hamilton finally opened up on the anguish he has concealed from the world since he slipped unnoticed out of a bulb-lit Abu Dhabi paddock two months ago after controversially losing out on the championship to Max Verstappen.
The Briton revealed how he lost faith in Formula One as a result of the debacle but was determined not to let the events of that desert evening define him. He also confirmed that he never seriously considered retiring from the sport.
‘It was obviously a difficult time for me,’ admitted the seven-time world champion, who dominated the final race of last season until the late, fateful moment at which the safety car was withdrawn earlier than the rules permitted.
The decision allowed Red Bull’s Verstappen to pounce on fresher tyres on lap 58 of 58, and Hamilton’s chances of an unprecedented eighth world title went like a mugging in the night.
‘I just unplugged, switched off,’ he continued, on his coping mechanism in the off-season that saw him withdraw himself from social media for a long time.
‘I had my whole family around me, a rare occasion when we were all together. It took time to digest what happened and it is still difficult to fully understand everything, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
‘I put my focus into training, getting healthy and enjoying the time off.
‘At the end of a season, the question is whether you are willing to commit the time and effort that it takes to be a world champion. A lot of people underestimate what that requires.
‘If you think what you saw at the end of last year was my best, wait until you see this year.’
At 37, clearly none of Hamilton’s deep-boned fighting spirit has deserted him, and his words of intention ring out as an ominous warning to the rest of the field.
Much of Hamilton’s hopes depend, of course, on the performance of the handsome Mercedes he and new team-mate George Russell unveiled yesterday at Silverstone, where the wind roared across the old, open airfield.
Gone is the old black livery of recent vintage — a nod to Hamilton’s championing of racial equality — and a return to the famous silver.
With this coming season’s all-new cars, intended to generate closer racing, nothing can be taken for granted before testing begins in Barcelona next week. Even that will only provide a skeletal idea of what lies in store.
The second test takes place in Bahrain before the 23-round campaign opens for real in the little Gulf kingdom on March 18.