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Lewis Hamilton blocks out F1 party to focus on Chinese GP success

The Guardian logo The Guardian 11/04/2019 Giles Richards in Shanghai
SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 11: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP walks in the Paddock during previews ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 11, 2019 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images) © Getty Images SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 11: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP walks in the Paddock during previews ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 11, 2019 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Lewis Hamilton is in no mood for any distractions from the defence of his title, even as Formula One prepares to celebrate the 1,000th world championship race at the Chinese Grand Prix on Sunday.

The five-times world champion has competed in almost a quarter of F1’s 999 races. From those 231 starts he has enjoyed remarkable success, with 74 wins, second only to Michael Schumacher, but as F1 made the preparations for its party in Shanghai, he was focused on another title with Mercedes.

“I am not one for birthdays, I’m not one for anniversaries, I’m not one for particularly special days like this, so it is absolutely no different to any other race weekend for me,” he said. “I am here to do one job and one job only and that is to win. It doesn’t matter if it is the 1,000th, the 2,000th or the 10,000th, it is an irrelevant figure for me.”

It is not an entirely unsurprising response from the 34-year-old who has always been strong in his ability to blank out distractions, if not perhaps the one Formula One might have been hoping for from their most saleable asset. However, Hamilton knows that this season the threat from Ferrari is real.

The Scuderia, so strong in testing, were off the pace at the opening grand prix in Australia, where Hamilton was second to teammate Valtteri Bottas. But at the second race in Bahrain, Ferrari definitively found their pace. Hamilton knows he only inherited his win there after an injection system fault scuppered Charles Leclerc’s dominant lead for Ferrari.

“They obviously have a great package,” Hamilton said. “You could say a stronger package than last year. They have definitively stepped up.”

At Ferrari the question is not only can they replicate the Bahrain performance in China but whether Leclerc will again comprehensively outshine Vettel, who struggled in the last race, finishing fifth. The team have said they would favour Vettel under certain circumstances but Leclerc clearly has no intention of being sidelined. He ignored orders to pass his teammate in Bahrain.

Vettel said he is enjoying his relationship with the 21 year old, still only in his second season in F1. “Charles is fast, he has proven many times before F1 why he has deserved the place,” he said. “To work with he is very straightforward. I haven’t come across a driver that is a pain in the arse and I hope I never will.

“I have always shown respect when other people did well and he did in Bahrain. I was not happy with my performance, that’s why I know I can do better and we have lots of races to prove that but at least when I am not at the top, it’s good that he is.”

Every 2019 F1 car and driver (Photos)

Leclerc took pole in Bahrain and the win was in his grasp until he was relegated to third but his first podium still put him only one point behind Vettel. His confidence is high and if Ferrari find the sweet spot again in Shanghai he will have every chance for a debut win.

Like Hamilton he was not allowing any distractions. “Things go very quickly in F1,” he said. “After the first race nobody sees me as a title contender, after the second race everyone sees me as a title contender. I need to keep the focus on what I am doing in the car, work as hard as possible, try to do the best job in and out of the car and the rest will come. Then we will see. We are only at the third race.”

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