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Entire McLaren workforce backs Hamilton

NEWS STORY
12/10/2011

Mat Coch writes:

It's been a season in which he's visited the stewards room more times than the podium. The sparkling performances which heralded his arrival in Formula One have been few and far between in a year he's already admitted has been the toughest of his career. The media focus on Lewis Hamilton has always been intense, though lately it seems to become increasingly hostile.

He's lost the golden child mantle to Sebastian Vettel, along with the 2011 championship, and it's clearly not resting well on the 26-year-old's shoulders. His desperation to reassert himself at the front of the field has led to a vicious circle which has seen him in more clashes than he would have otherwise been involved. Lacking confidence he tries harder, becoming involved in more incidents, thereby perpetuating the problem.

Yet Jonathan Neale, McLaren's Managing Director, is quick to throw his weight behind the team's most recent world champion. He is also at pains to point out the support for him within the team, suggesting that while the current run of results doesn't seem to be going his way, it's only a matter of time before he reignites the world's circuits.

"Lewis' biggest critic is himself," said Neale in the latest Vodafone McLaren Mercedes phone-in, implying no amount of media scrutiny comes close to Hamilton's own critique. "He desperately wants to win and he's understandably not happy when either his teammate beats him or somebody else is winning the race or the championship... He's tough on himself and he's massively disappointed and we would all be disappointed if he didn't feel that as well.

"You have to remember that professional sport, as the England rugby team will be feeling when they read the Sunday papers, is a brutal business," Neale continued. "I think one of the journalists wrote that it's a sport in which the winners are deified and the losers vilified. So we can all turn around and say 'where is Lewis and what's he doing' but the reality is he's a really quick driver, he's a really nice guy and he gives his heart and everything in to it."

That 'all or nothing approach' is one that's won Hamilton the endearment of countless fans around the world, not to mention the loyalty of staff slaving away in the McLaren Technology Centre to build him a competitive car week in, week out. "I'm concerned to make sure that he feels and understands that we're 100% behind him and this team certainly is and the workforce here love everything about Lewis Hamilton. We want to take care of him. It's been a difficult season for him; we didn't give him the car to really get the job done this year but what he's done with it has been fantastic, and we're 100% behind him."

Clearly Neale's comments are aimed at creating positive press for the besieged 2008 world champion. On course to be beaten by his teammate in the championship standings for the first time in his Formula One career, Hamilton has been decidedly unimpressive for large portions of the year. Then, as if to remind us that he is more than just a capable driver, he delivers results like those in China and Germany - two victories, both in treacherous conditions, which prove his underlying talent remains. It would suggest the problem is unlikely to be his driving.

Instead Neale's comments suggest a crisis of confidence, and certainly in Japan Hamilton's body language suggested as much. A well timed message of encouragement highlighting his past achievements and support from his colleagues is clearly an attempt at not only arresting the slide, but reversing it. "If I remember back, I think it was 2009, when we were dragging ourselves back during the first half of the season. Lewis was pulling performances out of the car that were certainly beyond the its performance and he individually helped us and carried us during the first half of that season and rightly got the win in Hungary. Lewis is a force of nature, they understand that and we love him for all of that.

"I think many would argue that Jenson is driving probably the best that he's probably ever done and continues to get stronger," Neale continued. "I'm confident Lewis has some stuff to learn and can get better, but then I'm twice Lewis' age and the same goes for me as well - I'm anything but the finished product at the moment. But the workforce, when I was talking to them yesterday, gave Lewis a standing ovation and asked if we - the management team - would please get Lewis back here so that he can feel and understand that (support). And we will do just that. Lewis is a really important part of this team."

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