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Motor racing - Work hard, play hard; Hamilton is as hungry as ever

By Alan Baldwin

LONDON (Reuters) - Lewis Hamilton's 'work hard, play hard' approach to life has paid off in the past and the Mercedes driver is unlikely to change a winning recipe as he chases a fifth Formula One title.

The 33-year-old Briton enjoyed his longest break in a decade last winter and made the most if it, snowboarding in Japan, surfing in Hawaii and jetting between Europe, California and Colorado.

He has been working hard in training too, all the time questioning himself about his aims and how to be stronger than ever in a season that could see the top three teams even more closely matched.

"How can you get better? What’s next? Are you still hungry?," the Briton asked at the launch of his new Mercedes W09 car last month, leaving no doubt that the answer to the last rhetorical question was an emphatic 'yes'.

"Do you still want to win races? Do you still want to do qualifying? Do you still enjoy driving the car? Can you be better? What areas can you be better at?," he added going through a mental check list.

"As you start going through that training process, you start to discover your goals," he said.

"And it’s quite simple. I want to somehow be better than I was last year."

Hamilton won nine of 20 grands prix in 2017, becoming the most successful British racing driver ever, and ensuring Mercedes won both championships for a fourth consecutive campaign.

He remains the bookmakers' favorite to do it again in the championship starting in Melbourne next week.

"For me, Lewis Hamilton is the personification of hunger," commented team boss Toto Wolff. "He’s extremely motivated coming back after the winter break.

"And I don’t think lack of motivation and hunger, or any sort of complacency, is an issue for him."

PUNISHING SCHEDULE

Last year Hamilton set himself a punishing schedule, regularly jetting across the Atlantic between grands prix and living life to the full.

This year he has had time to regain some equilibrium, deleting much of his social media after a controversial post about his young nephew wearing a princess dress, and maintaining a lower profile.

"The team were great to enable me the time to really recharge. It’s been a long hard slog last year and so to recharge, have family around me, I feel great," said Hamilton on his return to testing this month.

"I think if I’d come back a month earlier I probably wouldn’t feel as well as I do now."

Hamilton's winter started in Los Angeles, before moving to his home in Colorado where there was little snow, and then on to Japan where there was plenty.

"Snowboarding is what I love doing in the winter so I do as much as I can," said Hamilton, who also worked out in Hawaii and spent time riding waves with professional surf great Kelly Slater.

"It’s great for working out because you’re paddling the whole time and it’s quite physical," said the Briton of that activity. "I got down to a 6'2 board, so I was quite happy with my progress.

"My dream when I watch top surfers like Kelly, see him on the big wave with the big barrel coming over, it’s crazy. So I’m like that’s where I want to be. I go for the biggest waves and get barreled over."

Not in Formula One, though. There, Hamilton aims to be riding that crest for some time to come.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ed Osmond)