The Monaco Grand Prix is all about rhythm. Nailing an immaculate lap in Saturday’s crucial qualifying session requires a smooth build-up from the very first practice laps. That’s just what Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel has managed so far this week, even setting the fastest ever lap around the principality.
By contrast Lewis Hamilton’s tough Thursday leaves him firmly on the back tyre with just FP3 left to turn things around. So a long Friday of number-crunching awaits the Mercedes engineers, with plenty at stake. As if hunting down his scarlet-clad rival wasn’t incentive enough, Lewis has the extra carrot of potentially matching his idol Ayrton Senna’s total of 65 pole positions – at the track where the Brazilian maestro had his finest hour of qualifying in 1988.
Yet Hamilton has come a long way from the very first time I asked him about Senna’s Monaco masterpiece and his own peak performances for Overdrive – during testing before his first grand prix in 2007…
‘Getting in the Zone is all about controlling your mental state,’ he told me. ‘You have to be so focused and you have to have all positive energy, nothing negative. But even the athletes who say they’re in the Zone can still improve. At the moment I am strong in races but I could improve my qualifying. I’ve never had a lap where I’ve felt 100 percent perfect and I’m not even sure it is possible. But that’s what your aim is.
‘Ayrton Senna was fantastic in all areas but he was renowned for being amazing in qualifying. Maybe his lap at Monaco was 100 percent perfect but it’s not being in the Zone that makes you qualify like he did that time. That was something else, “beyond the Zone.” That’s heaven…’
Fast forward ten years – and 64 pole positions – and Hamilton has edged closer to this sporting nirvana. When I spoke to him for In The Zone, he smiled: ‘Over the years I’ve had some incredible experiences. I don’t know what Ayrton went through when he was on the edge but I’ve been on as much of the edge as I can be – and over and beyond. One of those edge moments is when you hit the wall, one is when you put an incredible lap all together. That’s what keeps me going.
‘There have been moments, particularly in Monaco, where it does almost feel like an out-of-body experience. You can’t believe you’re driving where Ayrton and the greats of the past have driven. It’s mind-blowing how you are able to keep that car out of the barriers at the speeds you’re doing.’
Make no mistake, Hamilton fans… Even if it may take a truly mind-blowing lap to pull it off this time, it can still be done - if Lewis and his team can find the rhythm back in time to get that Mercedes dancing in the streets again.
Clyde Brolin spent over a decade working in F1 before moving on to the wider world of sport - all in a bid to discover the untapped power of the human mind.