Exclusive interview with race engineer Mark Slade: Lewis Hamilton “the best driver I’ve ever seen”

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It’s almost 16 years since Lewis Hamilton made his debut at the 2007 Australian Grand Prix. The rookie scored a podium that weekend at Albert Park in Melbourne.

By round three in Bahrain, he was already outqualifying and beating two-time defending World Champion Fernando Alonso in the same car.

Hamilton took his first race at the Canadian Grand Prix and led the championship for most of the season.

Bad luck and mistakes at China and Brazil ultimately saw Kimi Räikkönen pip him to the title by a single point.

Nonetheless, he rewrote the book on what a rookie can achieve. The 38-year-old has broken many records in the past 16 years.

Mark Slade was the race engineer for Fernando Alonso and then Heikki Kovalainen between 2007-2009 before departing the team. Hamilton took McLaren’s last Drivers’ Championship to date in 2008.

Photo: McLaren Racing

Even from the other side of the garage, the British engineer could appreciate the natural ability the seven-time World Champion had.

“Certainly when we started we didn’t expect him to be as good as he was quite frankly,” said Slade.

Slade has worked with the likes of Räikkönen, Häkkinen, Schumacher and Alonso during his long career in F1.

However, Kevin Magnussen’s current race engineer thinks Hamilton is the best he’s ever seen.

“He is phenomenally good. I have to say Lewis is probably the best racing driver I’ve ever seen. His ability is out of this world,” explained Slade.

“I really get pissed off when I see haters hating on social media. They just don’t know good he is.”

In spite of George Russell winning Mercedes’ only race last year at the Saõ Paulo Grand Prix and finishing ahead in the standings, Hamilton generally had the edge on pace from the Canadian GP onwards.

Slade is sure Hamilton can still compete for wins and championships if he is given the machinery to do it.

“I think the fact that George has not blown him away at all is an indication he’s still got it.

“He’s older now, but he’s just a fantastic driver. I’ve got huge respect for what he’s done.

“After that year first year at McLaren, it’s no surprise what he’s achieved after that at all. In fact, he can achieve plenty more given the right equipment,” Slade concluded.