He may have had to surrender his hard-fought F1 Drivers' World Championship crown to compatriot Jenson Button, but still Lewis Hamilton maintains that he has enjoyed a 'fantastic year' in 2009 - and now he is bidding to conclude it with what might well be the final KERS victory in Abu Dhabi, to get everyone at McLaren-Mercedes 'fully motivated and pumped up' for 2010.

The contrast between the first and second halves of Hamilton's campaign as defending world champion could scarcely be more marked. From the first nine outings, he garnered just nine points - as well as being forced to publicly apologise to his fans and the sport in general for being caught lying to race stewards in Melbourne following the Australian Grand Prix curtain-raiser back in March.

Since the midway point, however, there has been a dramatic turnaround in fortunes for both the British star and his Woking-based team, with triumphs in Hungary and Singapore, three pole positions, five podium finishes from seven races - including a searing charge up through the order from 17th to third in the Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos last time out - and the greatest points tally of any driver since Budapest.

"It's been a fantastic year for me," Hamilton enthused. "It's been very tough and demanding at times, but I think I'm actually a very different person now than I was a year ago - and some of that comes directly and indirectly from being world champion. I think this year has helped me to understand and appreciate more the challenge and thrill of F1. I'd like to think I'm a more rounded individual as a result of my season, and I definitely think I'm a better driver.

"Getting the upgrade package at the N?rburgring was a real buzz, but also an incredible relief, because I could finally feel I had a proper racing car underneath me. The first win of the year in Hungary was amazing, because we'd worked so hard for it, and every single person in our team deserved that win. Winning in Singapore was amazing too - such a hard race. I'm really proud to have won there; it's an incredible circuit and a real flagship race for F1.

"Also, racing at Suzuka for the first time was a dream come true for me, and I'm really proud of my drive in Brazil - I never thought I'd even get in the points, let alone get on the podium. I had a fantastic race! It was awesome; I really enjoyed myself out there. I raced my heart out, kept pushing like crazy and got a result I never expected at the end of the day. My car felt fantastic too; I could really push, our strategy was perfect and I was able to make the most of it. I think we've actually got a pretty solid car now. I know that Brazil played to our strengths a little, but still, to come from 17th to third was a very encouraging result for the whole team."

That it undeniably was, and as he looks ahead now to the inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix around the Yas Marina street circuit - whose layout should on paper suit the high downforce-happy MP4-24 - Hamilton is clearly keen to add one more victory to his tally for the year to sign off in style and lay down his calling card for 2010. And with the controversial Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems also off the agenda next season, the 24-year-old would dearly love to go down in history as the last driver to win an F1 race in a KERS-equipped car.

"We've had a fantastic second half of the season, and it would be perfect to end the year with a win," the Stevenage-born ace underlined. "That would send us into the winter fully pumped up for 2010. The most important thing is that we can keep developing this performance and take it with us into next year, and I'm encouraged by our progress.

"All the signs point to Abu Dhabi being another strong track for us - there are plenty of slow corners leading onto long straights, where KERS will be very advantageous. Seeing as it's likely to be the last race for KERS, it would be fantastic to send it off with a perfect result; that would be a very fitting farewell for all the engineers who have worked so hard to make the McLaren-Mercedes system the best in the business.

"I'm still a fighter, and I still want to make sure that I keep my family and my friends and my team close to me. I'll be fighting to take home a win in Abu Dhabi - that's very important, because a victory there will keep us all buzzing for the winter, and that's great for our motivation - and of course, I'll be bringing the fight to the first race of next year. I'm already looking forward to it. It can't come soon enough!"

Aside from the top step of the rostrum, however, McLaren's more immediate concern is on staving off traditional arch-rival Ferrari in the squabble over third spot in the constructors' championship standings. Just one point separates the two duellists heading to the United Arab Emirates this week - and Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Vice-President Norbert Haug well recognises the importance of winning that particular battle.

"This exciting season is coming to its end with the very first race at the new track in Abu Dhabi," mused the German. "This circuit defines the new state-of-the-art F1 race tracks, and I'm sure it will be a truly exciting and hard-fought race. After both world championships have been decided, every team that is in a position to do so will try to use the chance to win this prestigious final race of the season.

"Since Lewis' first victory in Hungary, McLaren-Mercedes has shown a clear upwards trend. Both Lewis and McLaren-Mercedes have achieved two wins and five podium finishes, resulting in more points than any team and any other driver in the last seven races. We will try to continue in that direction and hopefully with a similar result to the last street race in Singapore, which Lewis won."

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