By Alan Baldwin
JEREZ, Spain (Reuters) - Lewis Hamilton has a new best friend, a new private jet and a new sense of purpose as he prepares for a fresh start with Mercedes.
The 2008 Formula One world champion is, as he made abundantly clear at the launch of his team's new car in Spain on Monday, happy with the way things are shaping up so far after his move from McLaren.
"I'm just happier," declared the 28-year-old after his first drive in the silver F1 W04 car on a private filming day at the sunny Jerez circuit.
"Happy I've got a new challenge, happy I've got a new start, happy it's a fresh chapter in my life, happy that I've got this massive challenge in front of me, happy because I've got this excitement where I don't know if the car's going to be good or bad," he said.
"Happy and excited because I know I can contribute and with a lot of hard work and perseverance I think we can get there. So I'm happy about that."
Hamilton has swapped a team with which he won 21 grands prix for one that has only one victory to its name since the purchase of Brawn GP in 2009 and had an unimpressive three seasons with the Briton's immediate predecessor Michael Schumacher.
He knows he has work to do, and little time to adjust before the first race of the season in Australia on March 17, but Hamilton has already been throwing himself enthusiastically into the task in the simulator.
First impressions of the new car were positive - if largely meaningless at this stage - although the man who has spent the last three seasons teamed up with Jenson Button at McLaren also had his first complaint - too many buttons.
"In this car on the steering wheel I think I've got at least double the amount of buttons and switches that I had on the previous one," said Hamilton.
"I've already got rid of quite a few of the buttons as soon as I got here but I still have way more than I had before. The engineers and just the way the team works is different to what I've experienced so it is like starting from fresh."
Hamilton said he was also getting used to different terminologies and ways of working and was making notes as he went along.
"I'm using every skill and experience I have, and I'm asking the team if there's anything else they need me to do. I'm just making myself as available as possible for any questions," he explained.
"Last night I was grilling the aerodynamicist and asking questions about the car and pushing for certain things that should be added that other people have. There's not much more I can do, apart from just keep nagging."
Asked whether he would be learning any German words to use in private conversations with the team over the car radio, despite Mercedes being British based and with fewer German speakers than some of their rivals, the Briton smiled.
"I know one (word), but I don't plan on using it ever," he said, before reminding himself of one that was printable: "It's wunderbar. I plan on using that as much as I can."
The Briton was less happy talking about the private plane, which according to the Daily Mail newspaper boasts plasma screens, a bar, pull-out bed, a personalized registration and cost a reported 20 million pounds ($31.48 million).
The luxury should make it easier to spend time with celebrity singer girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger in Los Angeles as well as allowing him to fly around the world with his "new best buddy" - a British bulldog called Roscoe.
"My mum has about five dogs, my dad has a dog as well, but I have always wanted a dog of my own, and I've never had the opportunity to do it, so I just went for it," Hamilton told reporters crowded into the team hospitality.
"I've got him a passport, he's going to travel around with me. I've asked (Formula One supremo) Bernie (Ecclestone) for a pass, so fingers crossed he'll give me it."
Whether that happens, with animals normally barred from racing circuits for safety reasons as well as their own welfare, remains to be seen.
($1 = 0.6354 British pounds)
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Pritha Sarkar)