Hamilton feels more mature for title run-in

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The Independent Online

Lewis Hamilton believes he is a more mature driver than he was at this stage last season as he looks to move another step closer to securing the world drivers' championship at the Japanese Grand Prix this weekend.

The 23-year-old McLaren-Mercedes driver leads the driver standings by seven points with three races remaining this season. Hamilton was victorious on an appallingly wet Fuji Speedway circuit last year to take a 12-point lead over his then team-mate, Fernando Alonso, into the final two races. However, he managed to collect just two more points – crashing out in China before finishing seventh in Brazil – allowing Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen to overturn a 17-point gap and capture the title.

"Last year I was a little younger and excited by the fact I had just arrived in Formula One and so much was going on," Hamilton said yesterday. "I was leading [the championship] here but I didn't really understand the magnitude of the situation I was in and what was around me and the pressure that was on my shoulders. I dealt with it the best I could, but it wasn't the best.

"But I learnt from those mistakes and I've taken a big step in my life as a grown-up while, as a driver, I have matured and worked as hard as I can to improve in all areas."

Hamilton's closest rival in the race for the world championship is Ferrari's Felipe Massa but, with 30 points still at stake, BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica and the defending champion, Raikkonen, are still in the hunt.

These two are 20 and 27 points behind Hamilton respectively and the 23-year-old Briton is refusing to take anything for granted in the final three races. "At this stage of the season I feel a lot stronger than I did last year in both my state of mind and my fitness," Hamilton added. "I was so exhausted last year.

"The way I see it a lot of drivers are challenging for the championship. There are 30 points available so he [Raikkonen] can still do it. I can't take it for granted as there are lots of points available."

Massa insists that he will push Hamilton right to the end as the Brazilian looks to make up for his disappointment in Singapore. The 27-year-old failed to finish in the points after a disastrous attempt at refuelling in the pits, but insists that he will do everything he can to ensure there are no mistakes in the final three races.

"We are seven points behind and we still have a chance," he said. "We need to try do everything right. At this stage, with three races to go mistakes are not a good idea so we will try to get everything right. At this moment he [Hamilton] has the advantage but maybe by the next race it is different," he said.

"I think he is a very strong driver. He is a very strong man and will be very hard to fight with but I think we are very strong also. We have shown we can have great performances as drivers. We have a great car and that is for sure the most important thing for the last three races."

8.4 seconds

Distance by which Lewis Hamilton won last year's Japanese Grand Prix at Fuji, ahead of Renault's Heikki Kovalainen.