Lewis Hamilton will return with fresh determination to succeed this year, having erased the memories of his 2010 title disappointment and the off-track troubles that clouded his campaign. That is the view of McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh, who says that he, the team and Hamilton have learned lessons from the difficulties they faced last season, and they are excited about their chances for the campaign ahead.
"I think it is well publicized that Lewis had a number of issues," Whitmarsh told AUTOSPORT. "He is still a very young man. I think he is finding his way as a motor racing driver and in his life, and I think he had some cause for distraction.
"The team could have done a better job, and inevitably the drivers could have done a better job. We could all have done a better job. I could have done a better job, too.
"But, overall, I don't think Lewis should be too dissatisfied with his performance. He had some fantastic races and we all know what a superstar he is, and how tough he will be on himself. Just as Jenson [Button] was tough on himself and disappointed about his end of the season, just as I am tough on myself and the performance of the team. That is what drives us along, motivates us and makes us determined to win this year."
Hamilton admitted in a post-season interview with Britain's BBC that off-track issues – which included a management split with father Anthony – had been difficult for him to cope with last year. Those problems left Whitmarsh in no doubt that Hamilton and teammate Button, who resumed team duties at a McLaren training camp today, were given time off over the winter to clear their heads after the intensity of last year.
"It is an incredibly long season now, and we face 20 races. We have got more races, they are spread over a longer period of the year and they are farther away from Europe. There are all those factors to think about.
"I think some people underestimate how much tougher it is. I worked with colleagues last year and told them, 'Let's give our drivers six weeks where I am not going to call them, and I don't want anyone else to call them either.'
"I want them to have six weeks to chill, to train, to live life and to reflect and prepare. That is coming to an end for our drivers on Tuesday when they will be at a training camp at Bisham Abbey with the racing team. That is about getting back together as a team to do a bit of team building, reappraise and benchmark their fitness and training."
Ahead of the launch of the new McLaren MP4-26 in Berlin on Feb. 4, Whitmarsh is giving little away about the design of the car, but says the team has learned from the reasons why it did not beat Red Bull Racing to the crown last year.
"I think the key lesson from last year is that you have to continue to develop the car," he explained. "It was such a tight, fiercely fought championship that you have to find performance every fortnight. From halfway through the year, it was going to be the team that found the most performance. I think it was as simple as that. Both of our drivers did a great job and I am confident that they will do that in the coming years.
"What you would like is a serial production line of enhancements coming through the system and you aim for that – but sometimes it becomes a little bit drier. Maybe we were not as racy in our interpretation of front wing heights as others, and that had notable effects. I was surprised by some of those things, but at the end of the day I am not complaining about what anyone else did. If the opportunity is there, you have to try and do it yourself."