Hamilton: Who knows when I'll have the chance to win again I'm going to have to drive the nuts off the car
23:06 GMT, 24 November 2012
With rain forecast to sweep across
the famous old Interlagos Circuit, Lewis Hamilton intends his farewell
drive for McLaren to be a dramatic spectacle from pole position.
For he admits that he cannot truthfully predict when he might next have the opportunity to win a Grand Prix.
His father, Anthony, will be with him
on the grid, the last to shake his hand before Hamilton is left to the
stillness of being alone in a car designed to fit him like a second
skin; a car in which he majestically won his fourth race of the year
last weekend, the 21st Grand Prix victory of his career.
On pole: Lewis Hamilton after qualifying at the Brazilian Grand Prix
'I don't know when I'm next going to have a car that will be as competitive as the one I have,' said Hamilton last night.
'So, I'm going to drive the nuts off it here.'
For Hamilton, the Brazilian Grand Prix provides the chance to put his name on the winners' board at the last classic, old world circuit he has yet to conquer, having already won at Silverstone, Monaco, Monza and Spa.
If it is wet, he will remember with fondness his British Grand Prix triumph in blinding rain four years ago.
'That was wicked,' he said with a smile. 'Every time I made it through Abbey, when other drivers were spinning and aqua-planing off the road, the crowd stood up to cheer. It's a cherished memory.
On the road again: Lewis Hamilton in action
'I've never won here and it would be so special to do it now. This is where Ayrton Senna is from and near where he is laid to rest, and he is the guy I still believe was the best of all time.'
Hamilton has a feeling for motor racing history. He is a purist who, despite the controversies he has created, will always drive with courage and commitment.
Yet, when his work is completed, he knows he will have raced for the final time for the team that has been at the heart of his life for the past 14 years.He can only guess how emotional he will feel.
'I am sure coming across the line for the last time it will really, really hit me then,' he said.
Hamilton, however, could not be more content, or more certain that signing for Mercedes, a team with one win in the past three years, is the correct move to enhance his career.
Communication breakdown: Lewis Hamilton with McLaren boss Ross Brawn
'I am in a good place, and no matter what happens this weekend, I'll still be in a good place,' he said.
Others, including current team-mate Jenson Button, challenge his wisdom at taking the job that has proved beyond Michael Schumacher, a seventime world champion retiring for a second, and final, time today.
'Lewis is taking a big risk, there's no getting away from that,' said Button, whose second place on the grid meant a record 62nd all-McLaren front row.
Almost 6,000 miles away, Ron Dennis will be at his 25million Surrey mansion, smarting that Hamilton – groomed for stardom from childhood by his largesse as McLaren team principal – will no longer be under his control tonight.
Dennis takes defeat badly, and over this summer through an obstinacy in his negotiations with Hamilton's management, led by Simon Fuller, he was beaten in the fight for Lewis's signature.
Happy days: Lewis Hamilton celebrates his championship victory in 2008
The might of three-time world champion Niki Lauda, co-opted by the Mercedes main board to give their F1 team political impetus, along with Ross Brawn, the team principal who shared in all of Schumacher's world championships at Benetton and Ferrari, and Bernie Ecclestone, the ring master of the billionaire F1 circus, provided Hamilton with compelling arguments to leave McLaren.
For Dennis, Hamilton's departure is a betrayal. But, then, Lauda, Alain Prost and the late Senna – all, like Hamilton, world champions for McLaren – also departed under a strained atmosphere.
'Ron is a challenge to work with,' said Lauda. 'I had my fights with him, but I have also seen how warm-hearted he can be. Everyone has their good and bad sides. Let's say Ron is 50-50.'
Lauda, 63, was impressed with Hamilton the moment they met at the Conrad Centennial Hotel after the Singapore Grand Prix two months ago.
'There are mixed feelings in the paddock about Lewis,' said Lauda. 'I heard people call him single-minded, or emotionally naive. I didn't believe all that bull****. He was very intelligent and down to earth. I liked the fact he met me on his own without any manager. Inside the car, there's no discussion about his abilities. I always rated him the top driver – he is aggressive and does what it takes.
New ground: Ross Brawn will be working with Lewis Hamilton next year
'I don't think I needed to do too much persuading for him to come to Mercedes. For me, it was a simple case to make: when a driver stays with one team all his life he sees only one part of the world. He wants to see another world, and he is curious enough to go for this challenge.
'I honestly don't believe he is leaving McLaren because he was sour with Ron. With me, Lewis spoke highly of the McLaren team. He understands Ron as I do, and I have no bad feelings for him. I am sure Lewis will take with him good memories, as I did.'
Nevertheless, by late summer Hamilton's overriding emotion was to be freed from Dennis. Hamilton had, after all, fired his own father from managing him in March 2010 when he thought he had matured enough to direct his own future.
There was pain from that fall-out, but the presence here of his father and stepmother, Linda, proves wounds have healed.
'We're here to support Lewis,' said Hamilton Snr, who suspects that McLaren stand to lose more than his son. 'He's been racing and winning since he was eight. Nothing is going to change at Mercedes.'
Private life: Lewis Hamilton's relationship with Nicole Scherzinger is back on
Lauda's role in the poaching of Hamilton on a three-year, 60m deal which grants him the autonomy to exploit his own image – something Dennis denies his drivers – was a strategic masterstroke.
'Mercedes is committed to F1 for the next eight years, and it makes a hell of a difference to have a new driver, especially someone like Lewis, to bring a positive spirit,' said Lauda, supported by Ecclestone in his quest, as Hamilton's capture was integral to the car giants staying in the sport.
'Ross is energised by Lewis, and he was the man behind this. As a team we have to do everything in our power to have a competitive car.'
Even so, opinion within the paddock is divided about how Hamilton's story will unfold. Has the 27-year-old made an irreparable mistake by leaving a team with a race-winning pedigree to gamble on Mercedes getting an edge as one of three manufacturers building the 1.4 turbo engines to be introduced in 2014
One former driver-manager here said: 'I would have thought a better option for Lewis might have been a short-term contract with McLaren for him to have some options when Red Bull and Ferrari have a driver vacancy, as they almost certainly will at the end of next year.'
Opportunity: With Lewis Hamilton at a different team, Jenson Button (left) think he'll have more opportunities to win
Button, 32, the only team-mate ever to beat Hamilton over a season, feels sure an opportunity awaits as the lone former champion at McLaren next season.
'I have my best chance in three years to be world champion in 2013,' said Button. 'In our time together, Lewis and I were forever taking points off each other. What will most stand out for me is his speed in qualifying, even in a car he is not that happy with.'
In the circumstances, Hamilton's relationship with Dennis was never going to end happily, but he is not the least affected by him choosing not to be here today. Next month, Hamilton will appear before McLaren's workforce at the team's HQ in Surrey, to thank them for their support.
'It will be tough, but I feel great I'm being allowed to speak rather than just leave. That would have been cold,' he said.
More than anything, though, and as much as he dislikes Dennis's contractural insistence on his drivers handing over their trophies to him, Hamilton hopes to deliver one last piece of silverware to McLaren from Brazil.
Rollercoaster life of Lewis, from cheers to tears
Grands Prix 109 Wins 21 Poles 25
At 10, Hamilton won his first British Karting Championship and introduced himself to McLaren Group CEO Ron Dennis at the annual Autosport Awards, saying: 'I'm going to drive for you one day.'
2007 A rookie season saw him finish on the podium in his first five races and eventually failed by one point to win world title. His father negotiated five-year 75million deal for him.
2008 Hamilton became the youngest, and first black, world champion in F1 history. Won title by a point from Ferrari's Felipe Massa when overtaking Timo Glock on final lap of the final race in Brazil to seize the fifth place he needed.
2009 Hamilton excluded from fourth place in the first race of the year, at Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, having misled stewards in an incident that became known as 'Liargate'. Won just two races in the season.
2010 His relationship with American singer Nicole Scherzinger declared over. In March, sacked his father as manager two weeks before the first race in Bahrain. Three wins, but Sebastian Vettel replaced him as youngest champion.
2011 Series of six incidents with Massa, and seemingly had a season ticket to the stewards' room after five drive-through penalties. Three wins, but behind Jenson Button in championship – first time he had ever been beaten by a team-mate.
2012 Returned refreshed, his private life settled. But one question dominated all others: would Hamilton re-sign for McLaren At the end of September he agreed to replace Michael Schumacher at Mercedes on a 60m three-year deal.