Lewis Hamilton said on Friday he was ready to attack the new Formula 1 season after going through a “tough time” following the traumatic end to his 2021 world championship campaign.
The British driver, 37, spoke for the first time since losing the championship under controversial circumstances to Max Verstappen in Abu Dhabi on December 12.
Hamilton was on the cusp of a record-breaking eighth world title at the season finale before a controversial safety car restart allowed Dutch driver Verstappen to pass his British rival on the final lap.
The seven-time world champion was disillusioned after his defeat and at one point it was unclear whether he would return to the grid.
But Hamilton, speaking at the launch of the Mercedes car for the 2022 season – and a day after Michael Masi was removed as F1 race director – said he was still hungry for more success.
“I never said I would stop,” he insisted.
“I love doing what I do, and it’s such a privilege to work with this great group of people and you feel like you’re part of a family. There’s nothing quite like it.”
Hamilton said the race at Yas Marina was “rigged” after Masi’s decision to restart the race, ultimately giving Verstappen a chance to win the title.
Reflecting on the moments after the race, Hamilton, who appeared alongside new teammate George Russell and team principal Toto Wolff, added: “It was a difficult time for me and a time when I had to step back and focus on the Gift.
“I had my family around me and created great memories.
“Eventually I got to a point where I decided that I would attack again next season and work with Toto and George.”
Mercedes have returned from black – which has been installed in the fight against racism for the past two seasons – to their traditional silver colors for the new campaign.
“It’s probably one of the most exciting times,” Hamilton added. “It feels like the first (launch) again.
“It is very surreal to think that I have been working at Mercedes for ten years.
“Watching George get his seat fitted at the factory was reminiscent of when I had my first seat fitted at Mercedes in 2013. The journey we have taken since then has been absolutely phenomenal.
“Going into this year, I haven’t really set any goals. Every individual within this team has been working towards the ultimate goal of winning the world championship and raising the bar and doing something that has not been done before. †
Wolff said earlier on Friday that he was never concerned that Hamilton would retire from Formula 1.
“No, I was never worried – although you have to have respect, the driver is disillusioned after such an event,” he told the BBC.
“But we have a strong team and great support, so I knew he would come back.
“We were all disillusioned because the stopwatch never lies and Lewis was clearly the best man on the track in Abu Dhabi, who dominated the race, and then he gets taken away against all the rules by one person, so that’s very hard to digest.
“Like all of us, there was an initial shock. We’ve never seen anything like it, so he had to walk away, clear his mind and think about something else, and start working on those events and find a solution.”
Masi, who was heavily criticized for the sequence of events that led to Verstappen passing Hamilton, has been offered a new position within the FIA’s governing body.
The Australian found himself in the line of fire after engaging the safety car for the final lap and controversially allowing the backmarkers between race leader Hamilton and Verstappen to release themselves.
That led to a one-lap shoot-out between Hamilton and Verstappen, who had a huge advantage with fresh tires and exploited that to stunning effect when he picked Hamilton to take the title.