Lewis Hamilton is stronger, more determined and surer than ever of what he wants as he heads into the 2008 Formula 1 season - and that, he says, is all thanks to his experiences in 2007.

The McLaren-Mercedes ace wound up just one point shy of Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen last year, having led proceedings for the majority of the way. Now getting revved up to begin his sophomore campaign in the top flight, he argues, he is better prepared than ever before - and clearly intent on turning the tables on his Finnish rival.

"I think for some people it seemed it came too quickly," he said of his rookie season, speaking at the launch of the new MP4-23 at the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart, "but if you look back over my career I've been racing for 15 years. That has involved a lot of hard work on the part of my family, so it wasn't too much of a shock to the system!"

Indeed, the recently-turned 23-year-old was quick to praise the role his family have played in his spectacular rise up through the ranks to where he is now, underlining their support and commitment, and he is well aware that the best way for him to pay them back is by way of on-track success, of which there was no shortage last year. Perhaps surprisingly, he also made a point of taking positives from his strained relationship with former team-mate Fernando Alonso in 2007.

"It was a steep learning curve," Hamilton acknowledged, "and I think I grew as both a person and driver. With all the experiences you have - whether they are good or bad - you learn and move forward.

"I learned a lot from Fernando throughout the season, as I do with every team-mate I work with. You learn things outside of the car about their personality and how they present themselves, and I'm always striving to be a more professional, competitive and all-round driver.

"Each time you work with someone new, you learn something and take a little bit from that. He has more experience than me, so I was able to extract some good from that. He is a fantastic driver, and with some help I was able to improve my driving too.

"I hope [the events of the 2007 season] make him more determined; they make me more determined to beat him! Not just him, but all the drivers. At the end of the season Kimi beat me, so I'm more determined to beat him this year. I know where his strengths are from experience and from racing wheel-to-wheel with him, and with Fernando and Felipe [Massa] and all the others. Over a year you get to understand what sort of people they are, whether you're safe around them on the track or not and where you can beat them.

"I feel more determined this year - I know what I want. I knew what I wanted last year, but it was like having that desire and not knowing how to fill the shoes 100 per cent. I thoroughly enjoyed the season. It was the best year of my life, but I know it can be even better. This year I feel more confident, more at home, more relaxed and even more sure of what I want."

As to the disappointment of Brazil, when he lost what had looked to be a sure-fire drivers' title through an over-zealous opening lap, intermittent mechanical woes and an unusual pit strategy, the Stevenage-born star was insistent it had only been a fleeting one, and that no sooner had the race finished than he had already focussed his sights on setting the record straight in 2008.

"I wouldn't say it was a blow," he maintained, "but you wouldn't be human if you didn't feel anything. We got back [to Woking] and got the team together in the cafeteria. Ron [Dennis] stood up and said a big thank you to everyone and I did the same, and I just said 'let's keep going and pushing forward'.

"To see the enthusiasm and the atmosphere there was even better than the previous year when they welcomed me to the team. That was a big boost of confidence, for me especially. At the end of the season I just wanted to wind down, find where I was and then build myself back up, and that's what I've done.

"I feel every year I grow. The knocks, mistakes, disappointments and even wins and great results all help to mould you into a better person. If you can come away from a race like Brazil where you should have won the world championship, and keep a smile on your face... I didn't finish the race thinking 'bummer, I didn't win'. I thought 'I can't wait 'til next year. Bring it on - hurry up and get this winter out of the way and let's get cracking again!'

"I have definitely recovered from [Interlagos], and I feel even stronger both mentally and physically. I'm just excited and probably even more determined than I've been in the past, and I honestly believe I can do a better job."



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