Lewis Hamilton has claimed that he only knew Ron Dennis would be stepping down from his long-held role of team principal at McLaren-Mercedes 'minutes before' the news was made public - but he is adamant the change will not have any detrimental effect on his own position within the team.

Dennis announced at the launch of the Woking-based outfit's new MP4-24 challenger on Friday that he would be relinquishing the reins of the team to 'second-in-command' Martin Whitmarsh before the start of the 2009 Formula 1 campaign, after almost three decades at the helm [see separate story - click here].

Despite their close bond, however - with Dennis having effectively mentored Hamilton for more than half of his life from the age of eleven - the current world champion revealed that he had not been privy to the announcement until just before it was made, leading some to suggest that the infamous Hungarian Grand Prix qualifying spat between the pair in 2007 had to a certain extent soured the relationship beyond repair.

"I only heard Ron was standing down a couple of minutes before he announced his decision," the recently-turned 24-year-old is quoted as having said by British newspaper the Daily Mail, "[but] the team have never been just Ron, as he says himself.

"It was close to his heart to raise me, of course. The great thing was Ron was here to witness my first world championship and to see an end to such a great journey. Now we start another one. Ron leaving his role will definitely not affect my desire to defend my world championship.

"Martin has worked closely with Ron for the last 20 years; they are like brothers. The values they have put in the team will always be here way beyond my time. The foundations are here for the team to have a sustained period of dominance."

Hamilton was quick to praise Dennis, under whose astute stewardship McLaren claimed no fewer than ten drivers' titles and seven constructors' crowns, from his distinctly modest beginnings back in 1966 as a teenage mechanic on Jochen Rindt's Cooper Maserati.

"Ron is a very special person and has dedicated a lot of his life to helping me succeed," underlined the youngest world champion in the top flight's 59-year history, whom Dennis plucked from the obscurity of a Stevenage council estate back in 1996. "I'm very proud to be associated with him and his team.

"Without Ron I wouldn't be here specifically in this team today, in F1, and be world champion now. [For] a huge part of my life, I have been helped by him."

"Lewis winning the championship made the decision easier, but it was not the catalyst," 61-year-old Dennis contended. "I have come to my own conclusion. It was my timing and my choice."

Hamilton also made evident the importance of rapidly getting to grips with the new 2009-spec F1 cars, equipped with Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS), adjustable front wings, slick tyres once more and significantly different aerodynamic packages.

"It's really like starting again," the nine-time grand prix-winner confessed. "I have to learn these controls, and how to get the best out of them, so that I can be two steps ahead of every other driver in Melbourne. I also want to be the fittest driver - both great challenges."

The British star was similarly effusive about his New Year MBE and pre-Christmas audience with Prime Minister Gordon Brown, calling the it 'pretty crazy, a great compliment' - but re-iterating his belief, in the face of some criticism, that he had done the right thing by leaving his birth country to re-locate to Switzerland at the end of 2007.

"People make decisions in life and I don't regret moving," he stressed. "I'm happy where I am and I probably wouldn't be in the position I am now if I hadn't moved.

"It doesn't mean that when I go to races I'm not representing my country. It doesn't mean I hold a different flag. I'm still British and I still represent the country - and that's the most important thing.

"As for the MBE, what an honour to have alongside your name - but I will hardly see it as I'm not really going to write too many letters!

"[Gordon Brown] showed me around the building. It was incredible as, from the outside, you can't see how big it is. There is a hallway with the paintings of all the Prime Ministers.

"I never ever thought I'd be sitting there talking to the Prime Minister. It was very surreal. I took a present for his two kids - they both have a race suit now and they wore it for the rest of the day, which is good."