Lewis Hamilton admitted to a surprise and a sad memory on Friday after arriving at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari ahead of this weekend’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.
The surprise came, he said, on learning about Formula One’s proposals for a drivers’ salary cap to begin in 2023.
The sadness, he said, hit him as he recalled the death of his childhood racing hero Ayrton Senna when he passed the memorial statue at Tamburello corner, where the Brazilian died in 1994.
Five days on from his record-breaking 92nd victory at last Sunday’s Portuguese Grand Prix, the six-time champion was back at work and facing a barrage of questions about the past, the present and the future.
He said talk of a salary cap was unexpected, but it had nothing to do with any delay in his negotiations for a new contract with Mercedes. The talks are officially on hold until the drivers’ and constructors’ championships are settled.
“From a drivers’ point of view, it’s a surprise,” said Hamilton, when asked about the outcome of last Monday’s F1 Commission meeting at which all ten teams supported the idea.
“We’d heard of the idea a while ago, but it’s the first we’ve heard of it again this week – I think it’s important that the GPDA (Grand Prix Drivers’ Association) work closely with F1 and get into discussions.”
This weekend’s race will be Hamilton’s first as an F1 driver at Imola, which, he said, that evoked emotions as he inspected the track.
“Obviously, the history of 1994 is something we always remember,” he said. “I went ’round today and it was a really special lap, just going round and seeing this historic track, passing the harsh reminder of where Ayrton crashed…
“It is very surreal still for me, when I go to places where you know that the greats of the past have raced like the tunnel at Monaco or Silverstone…
“Earlier on, I was in an area where many years, 26 years ago, Ayrton was here doing what he loved, as I am.
“So, in one way, that’s heart-warming, to know that I was able to be here and do what he was doing 26 years ago, but otherwise it’s just another race.”
Hamilton said he recalled May 1, 1994, the day of Senna’s death, vividly.
As a nine-year-old boy, he remembers he was helping his father Anthony repair his kart at a British junior race meeting.
“I don’t know how he got the news, but someone told him that Ayrton had died,” he said.
“And I remember I had to walk away from my dad because he would never let me cry in front of him so I had to go to a different place. It wasn’t easy.
“I remember trying to channel that sadness into my driving and I think I won that weekend, but the following weeks were very tough.”
This weekend, Hamilton and team-mate Valtteri Bottas aim to wrap up Mercedes record seventh consecutive constructors’ championship as he heads towards his own seventh drivers’ title.