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Hamilton waves the red rag

NEWS STORY
25/01/2008

It can't be much fun for a driver when the majority of the pre-season tests attract thousands upon thousands of people who openly dislike you, who take every opportunity to taunt and mock you. Yet Lewis Hamilton (for it is he) knows he simply has to get on with it.

Last week's test at Jerez attracted thousands of Spanish fans, eager, not only to get a glimpse of their hero, Fernando Alonso, but to let Hamilton know exactly what they think of him. Over 70,000 fans have attended this week's test at Valencia, most of them Spanish, most of them fans of Alonso and consequently full of loathing for his former teammate. Whenever there was the slightest hint of a mistake, a failure or, better still an off, a huge cheer would erupt. And then there were the banners.

However, far from running into a corner and hiding, Hamilton has come out with all guns blazing, posting fifth best overall time at Valencia and the best at Jerez.

Speaking at the conclusion of this week's programme, the Englishman did little to appease himself in the eyes of the fans in the stands when he took the opportunity to take a further dig at his former teammate.

"He showed me just how not to behave as an F1 driver," he told reporters. "He was (the leader) at the beginning, wasn't he, but it changed. We should be a team. It should be equal."

To be fair, nobody - and that probably includes Ron Dennis, and definitely Alonso - expected Hamilton to be so good last year, and certainly not straight out of the box. "I think I established myself as equal last year," said Hamilton, a masterpiece of understatement.

Looking ahead, Hamilton doesn't expect any such problems with Heikki Kovalainen, who he has known since his Karting days. Although the Englishman will be seen as the number one driver, McLaren has promised total parity, and he is happy with this for it gives him the opportunity to establish himself where it really matters, on track.

"I just want fairness," he said. "I want Heikki to have exactly the same opportunities, and, if he does and I beat him, that's the reward. If I beat him on the same tyres, the same engine and knowing all that, you just know you're a better driver."

Referring to his perceived number one status, he added: "No I don't feel like the natural leader. But I think I established myself as equal last year.

"Last year I was surprised by how consistent I was and how few mistakes I made," he admitted. "But this year I have no doubts. I know I'm going to be better prepared. I'm already better prepared. And I think we have a better package."

"Last year the only excuse was that I was a rookie and that it was all new," he added. "This year I'll continue to learn. There'll always be mistakes but I don't feel there is any room for error. I just strive for excellence, always. I don't say 'I have to be this, that I have to be that, by this time - but I do want to be World Champion this year.

"You have to be in the right place at the right time, everything has to go the right way and you have to be in the right frame of mind."

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