LEWIS HAMILTON extends his hand and gives me a vice-like handshake, at the same time a grin flashes across his face exposing his shiny white teeth.
He is still buzzing from driving one of the Mars rovers at NASA’s HQ in Houston the previous day.
He also knows he is on the verge of winning his fourth Formula One world title if he outscores Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel by 16 points this weekend.
It is a remarkably different Hamilton from 12 months ago when he arrived here in Austin off the back of a media meltdown in Suzuka — even blocking me on Twitter in protest.
The Hamilton of 2017 is a noticeable upgrade on the 2016 version. On the track he has dominated and off it he has flourished as a person.
I put it to him that in the past 12 months he has changed not as a driver but as a human being and that people are beginning to warm to him.
He is a bit taken back at first by the question but regains his composure, and after asking his performance coach for a towel to mop his brow in the 30°C Texas heat, says: “I don’t get it. I have the same heart as when I was born.
“But with maturity you learn to say things better or navigate yourself in a better way. You could say, ‘Well, that one didn’t work, I’ll do it this way’.
“You have to make mistakes, but Jesus, I am a frickin’ old man now. I am 32 years old, but I do have a place in this sport now.
“If you are in my position and performing the way I am, I can pretty much say what I want, providing I am not disrespecting people or the brand. When I was younger, I did not realise it whereas now I know that I can make a difference.”
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Hamilton has spoken about his support for the American football stars who are upsetting President Trump by kneeling during the National Anthem in protest at racial injustice and police brutality.
He said: “I am not just a racing driver. There is a lot more to me. This is just a small part of who I am. I don’t feel like I’ve done enough to support the protests.
“I think you can always do more, it is just that politics is very interesting. There are a lot of powerful people in this country and it is easy for people who are not affected by it to have the opposite opinion.”
With an increase in self-confidence, we are finally getting to see the real Hamilton behind the visor.
He added: “I am in support but at the same time I am here to do a job and I am not going to allow you-know who, the big, big cheese, from stopping me from doing the thing I love.”
Hamilton, dressed in an immaculate white team shirt with four diamond-encrusted chains draped around his neck, looking like a king of bling, is also vocal about vegetarianism.
He is physically leaner and says that his decision to ditch meat has left him in the best shape he has ever been in.
As he talks he pats down the front of his shirt as if to show off his figure, which he frequently proudly shows off to his five million Instagram followers.
He added: “I have more energy and I am stronger. It is just difficult because it is choosing the food. It is not as exciting as eating chicken and burgers but so long as you can understand that mentally, it is fine.
“People have it twisted. Look at silverback gorillas, look at how much muscle they have and they only eat grass and leaves!
“I miss salmon. I miss fish and miss going to Nobu but I am grateful I stopped eating meat two years ago.
“It was not worth eating it. And as for chicken, when you see what we are doing to it. It is s***. And as for bacon! I feel sick thinking about it.”
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The new Hamilton clearly feels comfortable in his own skin. So much so that he is also happy to discuss his bank balance.
The Brit is currently negotiating a new contract with Mercedes.
A three-year deal is likely to break the £120million mark, yet despite all his millions in the bank, he says he is like everyone else and regularly checks his bank account.
And he says he is always trying to curb his spending, with his biggest expense being his travel budget.
I asked him if he still worries about having enough money in the bank when he is old, and he smiles and says: “Do I worry about my future? Nah. With money? I do that same thing as everyone else does. I check my bank accounts. I check the money going out and the money going in.
“On a quarterly basis I check my outgoings and there are many times where it is ridiculous the amount of money I spend.
“Mainly on travel because I book things the day before I go. You have a calendar and most people book things at the start of the year to get good deals. I book the day before, so that costs me a lot.
“I also cancel a lot. Sometimes I will be mid-air on my plane and decide to change direction, so that’s the issue.”
And it is not the only issue Hamilton is tackling these days.