No one doubts Lewis Hamilton's searing speed in an F1 car. But in a season that'll demand self-control as much as it requires mind-control, can he contain his racer's edge? Here, he opens up to Peter Windsor
Lewis Hamilton walks in, led by his smile.
"How was the photoshoot?" I ask, to break the ice.
Traditionally, F1 drivers enjoy photoshoots about as much as they enjoy flying economy. Not today: "Great. They felt like the best shots we've done in all the years we've been doing them. Last year we did some nice pictures, but for me there was too much white around them. These were much darker, much better."
Lewis sits back. I sense that he has become armour-plated "over the years" (as he refers to his past seven seasons of F1) and expects interviews always to be injurious. Me? I'm just a fan - a motor-racing fan - whose eyes are big enough to see that Lewis Hamilton is one of the fastest racing drivers of all time, let alone of his era. Thus I just want to talk about racing.
"So how do you feel? What sort of winter have you had?"
"Good. Winter's been amazing."
"Where were you?"
"Colorado. In the mountains for two months, training and trying to lose weight, which every driver is probably trying to do. I spent a lot of time with the family but it's been the most challenging winter I've had in physical terms."
"Lose weight?" I reply, astonished. For if ever there was a guy with a body seemingly perfectly sculpted to his profession it would have to be Lewis Hamilton.
"I've always been relatively light, but last year we had the space for me to put on some weight, some muscle. I started bulking up towards the end of the year. I put on about 4kg."
"You mean technically, given the layout of the car, you'd been allowed to put on weight?"
"Yes. Michael [Schumacher, who Lewis replaced at Mercedes for 2013] was naturally heavier, so there was a gap there and I filled it.
I put on muscle at the end of the year, but now I've had to lose it again for the new car. And it's a lot harder to lose muscle than to gain it!"
"Did you do any skiing?" I ask, with Michael very much in our thoughts.
"U-huh," he replies sheepishly in the affirmative.
"Where were you when you heard what had happened to Michael?"
"I was there, but I didn't hear about it until
I woke up the next morning."
"It's been a strange winter," I say. "Michael's accident; we lost John Button..."
"It's been an... interesting... few months, to be honest. I became really aware of a lot of deaths, of people passing on, with Mandela, John - and there were a lot of accidents on the mountain where I was. Someone there died in an avalanche on my birthday and I just couldn't believe something like that could happen in that area. Then I found out that in the Alps about 20 people die per year. I never knew that."
"It's a reminder of the fragility of life."
"Yes, very much so."
Lewis is speaking softly, in the way he developed three or four years ago, when just about everything that he said or did became headlines in real time.
I ask him about 2014. The new rules; the horror stories of having to drive as if you're competing at Le Mans; of having to conserve the car; conserve the fuel. Is that the sort of thing he's been hearing from the team?
"When I speak to the engineers it adds up to what's going to be the most challenging year in my career - it's probably the same for every driver - in terms of understanding the controls and the setup that you'll need. On the simulator, we're getting almost non-stop wheelspin - almost to fifth gear at times."