MONTMELÓ, Spain – As a four-time and defending Formula One World Champion, Lewis Hamilton has a bit of luxury room to work with entering 2018. Knowing that his Mercedes will be quick has allowed him to notice other aspects of racing.
After the first week of preseason testing at the Circuit de Catalunya, the thing that seemed to jump out most to him was the change in the pavement of the circuit.
Over the Christmas break, the circuit was resurfaced for the first time since 2007. The process took out most of the small bumps in the pavement that develop as it ages and make the track smoother and grippier.
As a result, Hamilton said that getting around the circuit is “the easiest it’s been the whole 10 years that I’ve been driving”. But while the circuit may now be easier to drive, that doesn’t mean he is happy with the change.
“I’m not quite sure why they do resurface – I think it’s a waste of money in general because the older the surface, the more character there is in a circuit”, Hamilton said on Thursday evening. “They’ve smoothed this one out so that it loses a lot of its great character that a track like Barcelona has.”
The comparison Hamilton made between the old and new pavement in Barcelona displayed his relatively unknown talents in architecture and interior design.
“I always relate it to a house”, he said. “When you go and buy a brand-new house, it’s got no character. It’s new. If you go and buy an old house, older homes always have a little bit of history and a little bit more character. It’s the same thing with a track. When you go to a brand-new circuit, it’s got no history. But I like a track that is a bit more dated in terms of surface.”
Why does Hamilton love circuits with older surfaces? Because he believes they allow him to best show his talents as a driver.
“Drivers in the pre-race briefing constantly complain about the bumps, but you have to manoeuvre around the bumps,” he said. “You can brake a little bit more off-line or brake after or slightly before them and we have to set the car up to be a little bit better in terms of ride. But that’s where the character of a circuit is, you know? You flatten it all out and it’s got a bunch of corners, but it’s missing something.”
The changes to the surface at Circuit de Catalunya were driven primarily by MotoGP, whose riders said the old pavement was dangerously slick and unsafe for motorcycles, especially in the wake of Luis Salom’s fatal crash two years ago. They threatened to drop the Circuit de Catalunya from their calendar altogether if the track did not address the issue.
Hamilton made note of this, and is aware that MotoGP riders and Formula One drivers who race at the same circuit will want two very different versions of the same track:
“They’ve done this on many new circuits and maybe it’s something to do with MotoGP or something like that, so we have that fight. A lot of MotoGP hate us because we make (the circuits) bumpy and we hate them because they keep having us get these big run-off areas and stuff.”