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 Nürburgring 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.