Lewis Hamilton says he is has grown even stronger as a driver after a testing and character-building 2009 season with McLaren.
Hamilton was unable to defend his world championship this year after McLaren, on the back foot by the sweeping regulation changes, went the wrong way with the design of the MP4-24 and spent the first half of the season playing catch-up to pacesetters Brawn GP and Red Bull Racing.
“We knew the car wasn t the fastest,” reflected the 2008 world champion on his official website, “but, at the Barcelona test in week 11, it became really clear to us that we were struggling and we just didn t have the pace of the frontrunners.”
“I remember phoning Ron and Martin and explaining to them that we had a lot of work ahead of us if we were going to turn 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.”
McLaren arrived at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix over a second off the pace.
A damage-limiting charge to third place at the chaotic season-opening Australian Grand Prix was quickly undone by the lie-gate scandal which saw an emotional Hamilton breakdown in front of the press after being found guilty of misleading stewards about the way he passed Jarno Trulli under a safety car period.
“That was a difficult time for me personally,” reflects Hamilton, “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, and 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.â€
McLaren’s turnaround in the second half of the season saw Hamilton take race victories at the Hungarian and Italian grand prix, while notching up four pole positions.
And at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Hamilton and McLaren issued a stark warning of the threat they pose in 2010 by easing to pole position by over half a second.
Unfortunately though the race ended in retirement for Hamilton due to a brake problem.
The 24-year-old insists that the 2009 season as a whole has made him stronger.
“I ve learnt a lot about effort, dedication, motivation: things that you almost take for granted when you are at the front, but which mean a lot more when you are fighting at the back. I ve grown as a man, and as a driver I ve faced bigger hurdles this year than in my previous two seasons and I think I now know how to cope with things better than I did even from one year ago.
“I also think we are a much closer group now, too. We ve known each other for one more season, and the physical bonds between us all are so much tighter we ve been through a lot together and we know each other a lot better. That s something I really appreciate and I think that will make us a better fighting unit next season.â€