Lewis Hamilton heaped praise on one of his most bitter erstwhile rivals on Thursday before declaring that he and Formula One will miss the retiring Fernando Alonso.
Looking back after arguably his greatest season in a decade at the top of the sport, Hamilton said he had matured significantly since he and Alonso were antagonistic team-mates at McLaren in 2007 when a spectacular bust-up cast a shadow over their relationship.
“We’ve had good times and bad times,” said Hamilton, speaking to reporters ahead of this weekend’s season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
“We’ve grown. He was obviously here before I was and achieved incredible things before I got here and also partly while I was here. It’s been a privilege to be in an era where he was racing…
“Will I miss him? Yeah. I think the sport will miss him…”
Alonso will be aiming next year to become only the second man to claim motorsport’s Triple Crown by adding a triumph at the Indianapolis 500, with McLaren, to his victories at the Monaco Grand Prix and 24 Hours of Le Mans.
A decade on from his first of five F1 title wins, Hamilton also insisted that he never felt a personal sense of animosity towards Alonso.
“I don’t feel like I ever had a personal issue with Fernando,” said Hamilton. “I think it was more how the team was run, or the situation we were put in, and how that was managed.
“I don’t think we ever necessarily had an issue between us, except we were trying to beat each other and murder each other’s laps on the track.
“Outside, we used to play NBA 2K, or whatever it was, together every now and then. It was always really quite harmonious outside…
“I definitely think, naturally, we’re older — old men now and the respect between us, I’d like to think, is higher than it’s ever been and I don’t think that’s ever going to change.”
– ‘Highest point’ of career –
Hamilton added that he too had changed since 2007 and was now capable of coping with all of the demands and challenges thrown at him.
“In 2008, I was still really a kid. I was still maturing…
“Now, with age and experience, I’m able to do that. There’s not really anything you can particularly throw at me that I can’t handle.
“I still have that ability that I had as a kid, but I have the mentality side of things, particularly, and the stability — and that centred approach…
“That’s what allows me to drive and handle myself and steer myself through the year the way I do.”
Looking back on his performances in 2018, Hamilton said: “I think, to this point in my life, this is the highest point of my career in terms of my own performance (and) how I perform with the team.
“But I do believe there’s always areas to improve so we’ll definitely look at the season, at the end of this year, and there’ll always be areas you look at…
“We didn’t win every single race — some mishaps particularly at the beginning of the year. There’s always room to improve so I expect to do that. That’s my expectation of myself.”