Back at the scene of what was indisputably the nadir of his F1 career to-date and the beginning of what he describes as a season-long 'harsh struggle', former world champion Lewis Hamilton has revealed that the trials and tribulations of last year have served to leave him 'wiser' and mould him into a more complete driver and more rounded person in 2010.
It was in the immediate wake of the 2009 Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne that the McLaren-Mercedes star found himself embroiled in what was up until the explosive 'Singapore-gate' scandal, the greatest controversy of the year. Caught deliberately lying to Albert Park race stewards in an effort to see Toyota rival Jarno Trulli unjustly stripped of his third place and thereby inherit the position for himself, Hamilton was disqualified from the results and universally vilified – and his reputation all around the globe took a battering.
Forced into making a grovelling public apology less than a week later in the full glare of the world's media in Malaysia, the 25-year-old tried to explain his actions by insisting that he too had been 'misled' by respected long-time McLaren team manager Dave Ryan, who was offered up as a scapegoat and consequently dismissed from the squad for whom he had successfully worked for more than three decades.
Hamilton subsequently confessed that the spectacular fall-out from the incident had caused him to re-evaluate his place in F1 – to the point where he even considered walking away. However, having both overcome the most painful episode of his career thus far and helped the Woking-based outfit to battle back from the rear of the field to more accustomed front-running form come season's end – with a brace of victories, three further rostrum finishes and four pole positions over the second half of the campaign – the sport's youngest-ever title-winner is adamant that important lessons have been learned and that he is the best he has ever been twelve months on.
“I think [from] just maturing and learning and perhaps making better decisions, [I'm now] a little bit wiser than I was back then,” the British ace is quoted as having said by Reuters
. “I think you just continue to grow. Coming to the race now, I think that every year you feel you make another step. It doesn't happen that quick, but you feel that you make a step.
“Last year was a long, harsh struggle but we got back to the top and I was able to work on different sides of my driving. When you're at the back, you have more time to focus on other areas. Once I got to the front I felt I was stronger, and I ended up on a high and I think I rolled with that into this year.”
Indeed, a podium finish in the F1 2010 curtain-raising Bahrain Grand Prix earlier this month was arguably more than his McLaren-Mercedes MP4-25 deserved – and as he bids to add another one to his record Down Under, the eleven-time grand prix-winner conceded that both he and team-mate Jenson Button will need to focus more on qualifying, with grid positions having largely decided the outcome in the processional Sakhir opener.
“Definitely,” Hamilton affirmed, “because our race pace is not too bad and our understanding of the car felt very good in the race. I think clearly the most important part for us is to get the qualifying sorted, [and] understand how to get the most out of the car on that single lap.”