Lewis Hamilton may have been deposed from his F1 World Championship throne by compatriot Jenson Button in 2009, but still the British star has revealed his immense pride at McLaren-Mercedes having transformed arguably the slowest car in the field to the fastest over just a matter of months - a feat he contends no other team would have been capable of achieving.

Arriving Down Under in Melbourne for the Australian Grand Prix curtain-raiser back in March as the defending title-holder, Hamilton knew that the MP4-24 with which he was set to do battle was barely fit for purpose, having struggled to lap within 2.5 seconds of the benchmark during pre-season testing.

Not only that, but the subsequent gross indiscretion when Hamilton and respected long-time McLaren team manager Dave Ryan were caught lying to race stewards after the chequered flag had fallen in Albert Park - ostensibly in an effort to gain third place, at the expense of Toyota rival Jarno Trulli - was, he admitted, the nadir of his F1 career to-date, and one that forced him to issue a grovelling public apology less than a week later in Malaysia, and even re-assess his very future in the sport. They were, he acknowledged, dark days indeed.

"The first difficulty we faced this year was during testing," the 2008 F1 World Champion told his personal website. "We knew the car wasn't the fastest but, at the Barcelona test, it became really clear to us that we were struggling and we just didn't have the pace of the front-runners. I remember 'phoning Ron [Dennis] and Martin [Whitmarsh] and explaining to them that we had a lot of work ahead of us if we were going to turn the MP4-24 into a race-winner.

"That was a difficult call, but Ron and Martin gave me their full support and we actually started to look at a rescue plan immediately - there was no waiting - so what was a difficult experience at first actually turned into a positive one.

"The other tough moment happened not long after, in Melbourne and Malaysia. That was a difficult time for me personally, but I strongly believe that I used that experience to grow as a person and to become stronger through it. I'm a firm believer that every experience you have - even the bad ones - help to define and build your character. You can't change the past, but you can definitely learn from it. I overcame that situation in Melbourne, I had the courage and conviction to man up about it in Malaysia and, ultimately, I came out of it stronger."

A fleeting lift in Bahrain aside, there would be no real improvement in either McLaren's form or fortunes until a heavily-upgraded MP4-24 was introduced in time for the German Grand Prix at the N?rburgring in mid-July, and even if that weekend ended in frustration following opening lap contact, it was nonetheless apparent that the updates had borne the desired effect, in utterly transforming the characteristics of the hitherto low downforce-shy challenger.

Though Hamilton had three weeks earlier been forced to endure the ignominy of a dispiritingly abject run in the British Grand Prix in front of his still adoring home fans at Silverstone, the German renaissance swiftly demonstrated that it had been very much the machine at fault rather than the man - and just a fortnight later, the 24-year-old found himself back on the top step of the podium for the first time all year in Budapest.

"I arrived at Silverstone knowing that I wouldn't be able to fight for a win," he candidly reflected, "and I was just overwhelmed by the amount of support from the people at the circuit. I would never have imagined it would have been such a positive and inspiring weekend for me - even if our results weren't that great. I'd had such an amazing race at Silverstone in 2008, and it really meant a lot to me to see that people had kept the faith and were behind me - even if I couldn't score a win for them.

"One of my biggest highlights was in Germany, when we tried the upgrade package for the first time. Before I'd even driven the car, you could see that it was a big step - we'd completely changed the front wing, the top body and the floor, and there was a lot of pressure for it to be right. It looked fantastic, and it only took me a few laps to realise that it was an incredible improvement.

"Finally, after months of struggling, I could get the car to do what I wanted. I could get it turned in properly, get hard on the power and just rely on the grip to get me out of a corner. Coming out of the N?rburgring hairpin and heading uphill into the fast Esses, I accidentally left my radio switched on, and the whole team could hear me yelling and screaming because the car felt so good! I felt a bit embarrassed afterwards, especially when Martin told me he'd played the recording back to the whole team - but I can see now that it was important for everyone's morale.

"The other highlight was winning in Hungary. I'd always said that winning a race this year was going to feel sweeter than anything else we'd achieved, just because it would be such a satisfying conclusion to all our hard work. The Hungarian Grand Prix was just a dream come true - to be able to measure my pace over the others and to get the car home first was just unbelievable, total satisfaction, and then we had four weeks before the next race to hold onto it! Seriously, that was the greatest achievement of our season. I'm so proud of everyone who played a role in getting us back to the front. Believe me, we really deserved that result."

Indeed, Hamilton and McLaren remained at the front for the rest of the campaign, with another victory in Singapore, further podiums in Valencia, Suzuka and Interlagos and no fewer than four pole positions to out-score all of his rivals bar one over the second half of the season, and secure an eminently respectable fifth position in the final title standings - something that had looked way beyond reach off the back of a paltry nine points from the opening nine grands prix prior to the upgrade.

The inaugural Abu Dhabi finale had looked like delivering a third triumph of 2009, as the Stevenage-born ace obliterated the opposition in qualifying and led the initial stint of the race, only for brake issues to cruelly dash his bid for glory and conclude a rollercoaster year on a perhaps appropriately bittersweet note. No matter, he urges - there is always 2010...

"Of course it's disappointing not to finish a race," the 11-time grand prix-winner confessed, "particularly when you're at the front leading it, but I have to be realistic - to have got through nearly three seasons of racing and to only now be stopped by a mechanical failure is an incredible statistic. You almost take reliability for granted these days, so it was weird to be stood in the garage watching the race rather than being in it. It would have been great to have won the race to send us into the winter with our heads held high, but it wasn't to be.

"Abu Dhabi was an absolutely incredible place and I loved the circuit - for a new track, it has a good blend of corners and it needs you to be very focused and precise to get the best from the lap time. We'll be back to try and win it next year! The best circuit I visited all year, though, was Suzuka. Monaco still has a very special place in my heart - and it's totally unique - but Suzuka really is the greatest race track in the world. I raced my heart out there - my battle with Jarno in the first stint was seriously hardcore, like doing 20 qualifying laps in a row - but Brazil was even crazier still. The car was probably the best it has felt all year, and I didn't stop pushing from the first corner until the last corner. That was probably my best drive of the whole year.

"Also, I can't not mention Silverstone - the older circuits on the calendar all have this incredible character. Places like Silverstone, Monaco, Spa and Monza are the best circuits we visit, and we need them on the calendar. I know Silverstone still isn't confirmed for 2010, but it has to be on the calendar. I can't imagine racing in Formula 1 without it being there.

"[This year] I've learnt a lot about effort, dedication [and] motivation - things that you almost take for granted when you are at the front, but which mean a lot more when you are fighting at the back. I've grown as a man and as a driver - I've faced bigger hurdles this year than in my previous two seasons and I think I now know how to cope with things better than I did, even from one year ago.

"I also think we are a much closer group now, too. We've known each other for one more season, and the physical bonds between us all are so much tighter - we've been through a lot together and we know each other a lot better. That's something I really appreciate - and I think that will make us a better fighting unit next season.

"I think we can all be proud of what we've achieved this year. We started the season with what was the slowest car in the field, but we never gave up, and on Saturday in Abu Dhabi you could argue that we had the fastest car out there. That's an absolutely incredible achievement - and I can't think of a single team other than McLaren-Mercedes that could have done that.

"I'm really going to start training hard now; I want to start next season fitter than I've ever been, and I've been working with our team doctor to make sure that I'm better prepared than ever for the new year. I'll be training hard, at home in Geneva and in Finland. After a short break for Christmas it will be back to work - meetings with the engineers, the launch and testing the new car, which looks fantastic. To be honest, I'm ready to go racing again next week - at the moment, I think I can safely say that I'm more in love with Formula 1 than I've ever been, and I just can't wait to get back out there again!"