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Back to business for Hamilton

By Sarah Holt
BBC Sport at the McLaren Technology Centre

Lewis Hamilton
The absence of fanfare at McLaren's launch hinted at a quiet determination

Amidst an atmosphere of cost-cutting and rules changes, even Lewis Hamilton, Formula One's newest and youngest world champion, has put the champagne back on ice.

At the launch of his new MP4-24 car at McLaren's Technology Centre in Woking on Friday, it was clear the Englishman's heroics last season marked the end of an era - for both McLaren and the sport.

After unhooking the car's grey cover - which had unceremoniously snagged on the steering wheel - Hamilton finally unveiled the team's 2009 challenger, saying: "You're supposed to clap, you know!"

But he knows as well as anyone that the celebrations following his 2008 triumph have been practically over since he left Brazil, where he clinched the title in a dramatic final Grand Prix of the season in November.

"I've not really thought about the last race or last season," said Hamilton, who pipped Ferrari rival Felipe Massa to the crown by a single point.

"I just put it behind me and now I'm working on preparing for this season.

"I'm not sitting here saying 'I am world champion', I'm saying 'I want to be world champion'. I've just reset my goals."

The team have wiped the slate clean for the challenges of 2009, when Hamilton's task is to defend his title in a wholly new environment.

606: DEBATE
Mr-Foglo
For the first time, Hamilton faces a racing season without mentor Ron Dennis at his side after the 61-year-old announced his decision to stand down as team principal next month.

Hamilton met Dennis, who will hand over the reins to chief executive Martin Whitmarsh on 1 March, at an awards ceremony when he was 10 years old and signed for McLaren just three years later.

But the 24-year-old believes Dennis's departure as team boss will not affect their unique relationship or detract from the team's focus.

"Ron has racing in his blood and will never leave the team," Hamilton explained. "He'll always play a part here, even if it's a quieter role.

"I'll always be close to him. We are great friends but (when) he steps down, we won't struggle."

As well as coping with a changing regime at McLaren, the reigning world champion must also respond to the biggest set of rule changes in F1 since 1983.

The sport's new regulations are designed to encourage overtaking by a reduction in aerodynamics, the return of slick tyres and the optional introduction of the kinetic energy recovery system (Kers), which can provide drivers with two bursts of power per lap.

Hamilton concedes the new technical challenges could make it harder for him to emulate former great champions Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost and Mika Hakkinen and establish a period of dominance with McLaren.

Lewis Hamilton and Ron Dennis
Lewis is focused on those areas where he must raise his game and obviously he is much better equipped to win than he was last season

Ron Dennis
"Once you have the first (world title) win out the way it does take the pressure off and give you momentum," said Hamilton, who won five Grands Prix in 2008.

"But the new regulations will make it much tougher to stay dominant over a period of time.

"If the car had evolved over a few years, it would have been easier.

"I've not driven with the reduced downforce or with Kers, though I've always been good at understanding tyres so I don't think slicks will be a disadvantage.

"The development is happening at such a fast pace - but we will make sure this car is flat out the best."

The team estimate the new aerodynamic rules, which have produced a much sleeker car, cost them more than 50% in downforce.

Although the increased grip from the slick tyres will counter-balance that to some degree, the team are united in their desire to push development to its limit ahead of the season-opener in Melbourne on 29 March.

McLaren's chief engineer Tim Goss described it as a "steep learning curve," adding; "predicting where we will be later on this season is not easy".

But outgoing team boss Dennis has every confidence that Hamilton, the fifth world champion under his tenure, and team-mate Heikki Kovalainen, will be able to meet the challenges ahead in the coming season.

"Lewis and Heikki are the sort of guys who will try and be the best at understanding," said Dennis.

"Lewis is focused on those areas where he must raise his game and obviously he is much better equipped to win than he was last season.

"The way I see it for Lewis is that if you are a climber and you've climbed Mount Everest, you don't fear it - you just look at new ways of doing it."

Despite his new executive role, Dennis remains so single-mindedly focused on making McLaren stronger and faster that work began two months ago on the team's race car for 2010.

The drivers' championship trophy may well be back at McLaren HQ but for the 1,700-strong team in Woking it is back to business as usual - with one eye on the future.

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see also
Hamilton eyeing second title bid
16 Jan 09 |  Formula One
Dennis to quit as McLaren F1 boss
16 Jan 09 |  Formula One
New McLaren car joins 2009 launch
16 Jan 09 |  Formula One
F1 boss wants Massa to win title
16 Jan 09 |  Formula One
Toyota commit to F1 with new car
15 Jan 09 |  Formula One
Raikkonen tipped for form revival
14 Jan 09 |  Formula One
Massa positive about new Ferrari
13 Jan 09 |  Formula One
Steward 'sorry' for F1 boss slur
13 Jan 09 |  England
Toro Rosso confirm Buemi for 2009
09 Jan 09 |  Formula One
Massa gives new Ferrari first run
12 Jan 09 |  Formula One


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