By Alan Baldwin
SILVERSTONE, England (Reuters) – Lewis Hamilton defended his decision to snub a major Formula One promotional event in London and said the British Grand Prix and his title challenge came first.
The Briton, who will be chasing a fourth successive home win at Silverstone on Sunday, was the only driver to miss the F1 Live event on Wednesday.
Instead, the triple world champion was holidaying with friends in Greece.
“It’s been a pretty intense season so far and I felt I needed to prepare the best way I could for this weekend,” the Mercedes driver, who faced a barrage of questions about his absence and the disappointment of fans, told reporters on Thursday.
“The season’s the most important thing for me. That’s really it,” added Hamilton, who said he was unaware of any negative reaction from fans, some of whom had booed his name on Wednesday.
“I love this grand prix. I don’t think yesterday plays any role in how great this weekend is for me,” added Hamilton, who said he told event organizers last week that he would not be attending.
Hamilton can join the late Jim Clark as the only five times winner of the British Grand Prix and he left no doubt about how important the race was for him regardless of the championship standings.
The 32-year-old is 20 points behind Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel after nine of 20 races and comes back to Silverstone after being off the podium for two races in a row — the first time that has happened since 2014.
He said he was relaxed and excited for the weekend.
“You’ve got the championship, which is obviously the most important thing, and a very close second if not tied is the British Grand Prix,” he declared.
“Being a home grand prix, the home of motorsport, it’s such an incredible intense weekend, every year it’s a must-win for a British driver.”
Hamilton dismissed a suggestion that his absence on Wednesday had something to do with image rights and also gave short shrift to a suggestion that staying in Britain might have been better preparation than hours of flying.
He also shrugged off a question about Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff reportedly attending Vettel’s birthday party ahead of a hearing into the German driving into Hamilton’s car in Azerbaijan.
“All I can do is laugh at that one,” he replied. “It might be the dumbest question I’ve had so far.”
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Pritha Sarkar)