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Hamilton determined to get back on top

November 04, 2009 11:18 IST

Lewis HamiltonLewis Hamilton will be pushing McLaren harder than ever over the next few months to make sure he does not have to endure another 'character-building' season like the one just finished.

The 2008 world champion started the Formula One campaign with a disqualification, battered by a storm over lying to stewards in Australia and struggling with a car that was painfully off the pace.

He ended it in Abu Dhabi on Sunday with the first mechanical retirement of his career after leading from pole position, but with everything to look forward to.

The 24-year-old Briton was fifth overall in the standings, with two race wins and five podium finishes.

In adversity, the sport's youngest champion grew stronger and wiser and now he wants his title back from compatriot Jenson Button.

"I'm pushing my team harder than they've ever been pushed, so they are all on the edge," said Hamilton, sitting down with a small group of reporters in Abu Dhabi last weekend.

"We're all pushing each other trying to make sure we leave no stone unturned because we want to arrive (at the 2010 season-opener in Bahrain next March) with a chance of winning the race rather than this year where we were dead last.

"We've obviously learned so much from this experience, and hopefully it won't happen again."

HARD YEAR

The first scheduled pre-season test is in February and Hamilton said he would be in the car "as much as they will give me" but otherwise would keep a close eye on developments.

"I'm always in touch with my engineers, asking if certain parts have been developed, have they maximised this or that, why is this, why is that?

"I like to know, and right now I could tell you quite a lot about my new car and why they've chosen this material, why we are going this way and not that way. I always ask a lot of questions."

Despite the shock of lining up as a world champion without the equipment to defend his title, Hamilton said the season had been fantastic.

Embarking on only his third year in Formula One, he was on the back foot for the first time and had to lower his expectations while newcomers Brawn and Red Bull turned the pecking order on its head.

"It's been quite a long, hard year, full of lots of great lessons, not just for me, but also for the team," he said.

"We're a lot wiser and as a man I think I've learned a lot about myself. I think I've grown, I'm a lot more mature and wiser in the decisions that I take.

"As a driver, fighting from the back, (I've learned) how to work with the team and push them forward in a productive way, how to lift the team and keep them going.

"It's easy to do it when you're at the front all the time, but to do it when you're at the back, it's another experience," added the Englishman, who missed out on the title in his spectacular first season by one point.

"Every single experience you have, and they're mostly the bad experiences, are the character-building ones. It's how you overcome it, how you bounce back from it, how you rise above it.

"You can't change the past. In fact, what you do in your life makes you who you are. And if you learn from it, it makes you stronger," said Hamilton. "And then, as your life goes on, you achieve more as a result of building on what's gone before."

LESSON LEARNED

Hamilton made a public apology in Malaysia in April over the lying controversy, describing the furore as the worst thing he had experienced and explaining that he had been misled.

"Looking back on it, for sure, you wish you'd done it a little bit different, but it's water under the bridge," he says now. "It was a huge lesson learned."

By late July the McLaren was competitive again and Hamilton won in Hungary, a race overshadowed by the serious head injury suffered by Ferrari's Felipe Massa.

He took a second victory under the floodlights in Singapore and had looked certain to celebrate a third in Abu Dhabi before a brake problem forced him to stop.

"It was a real rollercoaster ride of a season and I thoroughly enjoyed it, even though we had half a year which was not a great feeling for us as a team," he said.

"I feel my relationship with every individual in my team grew and we grew better and stronger as a team, and as a driver I feel very strong.

"So I don't feel I've come out of it any worse at least. I've been back at the front and had a couple of wins, which I never expected, and I'm loving the sport as much as I ever have," he added.

Hamilton has an extra incentive spurring him on whenever he goes to the Woking factory, a rare McLaren F1 road car that former boss Ron Dennis promised would be his if he won three titles.

"Whenever I walk past it, I don't even think my girlfriend gets the same look, bless her heart," he smiled. "She's definitely got a challenger there. I love that car, always loved it.

"I've stared at it for God knows how many years, and there is always something new to stare at."

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