LEWIS Hamilton always looks forward to his annual trip to Singapore, and it's hardly a surprise why he feels that way.
The 34-year-old Briton has triumphed at the Singapore Grand Prix for each of the last two seasons, and he is the bookies' favourite yet again to finish on top of the podium in the Lion City on Sunday. In all, he has claimed four of Mercedes's five victories at the demanding 23-turn city-centre street circuit.
The Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport star currently leads the Formula 1 Drivers' Championship after 14 races this season. He's already won eight races and holds a commanding 63-point lead over fellow teammate Valtteri Bottas from Finland. Perhaps, the greatest challenger to Hamilton's quest for a sixth world title this year is fourth-placed Ferrari's Charles Leclerc, the 21-year-old from Monaco who roared to victory at the last two races in Belgium and Italy.
Before settling down to business in Singapore, Hamilton met BT Weekend at the F1 Pit Building for an exclusive interview arranged by IWC Schaffhausen. The luxury Swiss watch manufacturer has a long-standing partnership with Hamilton and Bottas, both of whom are the brand's global ambassadors. At the German Grand Prix in July this year, the cars of Hamilton and Bottas sported commemorative liveries to celebrate Mercedes-Benz's 125th year in motorsports. On this occasion, the IWC logo was specially changed to a vintage version.
During the interview, Hamilton opened up about his constant desire to win, what he enjoys most about the difficult Singapore track, and his love of astronomy.
You're a two-time defending champion in Singapore and going for a hat-trick this Sunday. What is it about the Singapore circuit that brings out the best in you?
It's such a great race here. The track itself is one of the most challenging on the calendar - it's very long, there are 23 corners, very bumpy, and there's the high temperatures and the climate to deal with. Mentally and physically, it's one of the most demanding circuits out there. But that said, it's really a spectacle with the beautiful city lights. Everyone loves it, and all my friends tell me that the Singapore Grand Prix is the best one to watch.
How do you prepare for a night race in a city? Does it require a very different sort of training routine?
Not at all. I prepare the same way for every race. There are others who might try some extreme ways of training. In the past, I used to do a bit of a workout in the sauna, or just spend more time in the sauna in the build-up, but in the end it made zero difference.
For me, it's all about being hydrated and having enough sleep. My teammates and I do the same pre-event workout. It's about making sure we stay fit and healthy. The Singapore race is one where I've lost up to 4kg before. It's hardcore.
You've been world champion five times and won more races than you can remember. Does that winning feeling ever get old? What keeps you going?
I don't win all the time (laughs). For instance, even though we've been to Singapore many times, every race is different. You never know how the car will behave once we get on the track. There's a multitude of issues to deal with and obstacles to navigate. It takes teamwork. It's never easy. We've never arrived on a race weekend where the car is already quick and we don't have to do anything to prepare. So when we finally get the win, the feeling is just "wow". You really feel proud because you know exactly how much hard work has gone in the background to get to where we are today.
I don't get bored of winning. The mountain keeps getting higher every year, so I've got to keep pushing. There are new drivers coming in to challenge all the time. There's a young guy in Ferrari (Leclerc) who's done well in the last two races, and I'm driven to perfect my car this weekend to reverse that.
We're now in that final stretch of the season where every point matters, too.
It's so hard, man. There are the long-haul travels to come, so you're more jet-lagged. From Singapore we go to Russia, then it's Japan, Mexico, Texas in the US, and Brazil. It's a lot of mileage to cover in these next couple of months. Once we get to the last race in December (in Abu Dhabi), you feel dead.
What do you think about Hanoi joining the F1 calendar in April 2020?
Hanoi is beautiful, I've been there on holiday once. I've not seen how the track layout is going to be like, but all I can say is I'm excited to go back to Vietnam. The only thing for us is it means another race added to the calendar, and there are already 21 races this year.
What would you be doing if you weren't an F1 racer?
I'd probably be doing something non-sports. I've always really been into space and astronomy, but I don't really think that would have been a career for me, actually. My dad was working in IT and network support, so I think I might have naturally followed in his footsteps and gone into IT and computers.
What's the relationship between IWC and Mercedes like?
It's actually an easy partnership that works very well because we both exist to chase time. I've been with IWC since I joined Mercedes seven years ago, and we've done some incredible campaigns together.
We're chasing the absolute milliseconds, and it's all about efficiency and innovation. If you go to the IWC factory, you can see the detail in the 500 or so pieces that go into the back of a watch. This incredible craftsmanship is very much the same as how an F1 car is built - everything is done in-house, it takes months to complete and many hands to put all those components together.