Recently-deposed F1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton has revealed that he is pushing his McLaren-Mercedes team 'harder than ever' as together they bid to make up for a 'rollercoaster' 2009 campaign that veered from the downright disastrous to second half dominance – and strengthened him in adversity along the way.
Hamilton's season this year – his third in the top flight – has been very much one of two distinct halves, and the word 'character-building' scarcely does it justice. Arriving Down Under in Melbourne for the Australian Grand Prix curtain-raiser as the defending title-winner but with a car some 2.5 seconds shy of the leading pace, the 24-year-old was instantly on the back foot.
Somehow he produced a third-place finish from virtually the back of the grid at Albert Park, but he was subsequently stripped of the result after he and respected long-time McLaren team manager Dave Ryan were found to have lied to race stewards following the race, ostensibly in an effort to get Jarno Trulli disqualified and inherit the Toyota star's position.
There then followed a grovelling public apology less than a week later in Malaysia for what he contended had been the worst experience of his life, accompanied by plenty of soul-searching that Hamilton admitted had almost led to him walking away from the sport altogether – “Looking back on it, for sure, you wish you'd done it a little bit different,” he says now, “but it's water under the bridge...It was a huge lesson learned.”
A strong run to fourth in Bahrain sadly proved to be a false dawn, and the Briton had to suffer the painful ignominy of qualifying on the back row of the grid and finishing an abject 16th in front of his adoring home supporters in the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, a race he had thoroughly dominated less than twelve months earlier.
Indeed, it was not until the German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring three weeks later – and the appearance of the heavily-updated MP4-24, to replace its aerodynamically poor and low downforce-shy predecessor – that things really began to turn around. From then on, Hamilton outscored every other driver bar one, triumphed twice, notched up three further podiums and set four pole positions.
Had it not been for his Abu Dhabi retirement last weekend, indeed – incredibly, the first mechanically-induced failure to finish of his F1 career and only his fifth failure to finish full-stop – he would likely have 'won' the second half of the campaign, but as it is the Stevenage-born ace wound up a far from unrespectable fifth in the final standings, and he is determined now to keep McLaren's end-of-season momentum going.
“It was a real rollercoaster ride,” Hamilton acknowledged, speaking to Reuters
, “but I thoroughly enjoyed it, even though we had half a year which was not a great feeling for us as a team. I feel my relationship with every individual in my team grew and we grew better and stronger as a team, and as a driver I feel very strong.
“It's been quite a long, hard year, full of lots of great lessons, not just for me, but also for the team. We're a lot wiser and as a man I think I've learned a lot about myself. I think I've grown; I'm a lot more mature and wiser in the decisions that I take.