Hamilton prepared for Formula One climax

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The Independent Online

Formula One leader Lewis Hamilton said missing out on winning the 2007 title has made him a stronger competitor for the climax of this season.

McLaren's Hamilton is seven points ahead of Brazilian driver Felipe Massa of Ferrari, with only two races to follow this weekend's Japan Grand Prix.

The Briton was in a similarly strong position to win the championship in his rookie season last year, but errors in the final two races enabled Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen to storm home and take the title.

"I learned from those mistakes and I come here this year having taken a big step in my personal life as a grown-up," Hamilton was quoted as saying in Thursday's edition of Autosport magazine. "And as a driver I have matured, learned from my mistakes and am working as hard as I can to improve in all areas.

"Just as a driver, in this part of the season, I feel a lot stronger than I did last year in terms of my state of mind and my fitness. Last year, by this time of the year I was so exhausted because it was such a crazy season."

Hamilton, who feuded with then-teammate Fernando Alonso in 2007 and admitted being overwhelmed with the excitement and pressure, won last year's rain-soaked Japan GP but his season then turned sour.

"I was a little bit younger and so excited by the fact that I had just arrived in Formula One," Hamilton said. "So much was going on, the controversies, and so much to learn and take on board.

"I was leading here but I did not 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 way I could, and it wasn't the best."

McLaren is now focused on helping him to the title, whereas last year Hamilton and Alonso both stood a chance of winning the championship in the closing races.

Neither did. Alonso then went back to Renault, illustrating the disharmony in the McLaren garage in 2007.

"This year we are focused on the championship, and the importance of finishing races and scoring points for the team," Hamilton said. "This year, being more of a team player is what we are doing."

Hamilton increased his lead in the drivers' standings and McLaren took a one-point advantage in the constructors' standings due to Ferrari's dismal performance in the Singapore GP.

The Italian team finished without a point after it botched Massa's pit stop, moving him from first to last, and Raikkonen crashed out late.

But Hamilton is not writing off Ferrari, acknowledging — on the evidence of Singapore qualifying — that "they are a little bit quicker than us."

"I haven't looked at the championship points, but as far as I see it everyone is in the running for the championship in terms of the guys I am racing with," Hamilton said. "I don't know how many points Kimi is behind, but there are 30 points available and he can still do it. And he did it last year, so I can't take it for granted."

There is a chance of rain over the weekend, though not the downpours witnessed in 2007. The action at Fuji Speedway begins Friday with two practice sessions.