Hamilton relaxed despite mentor's departure

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The Independent Online

Lewis Hamilton insists the tag of world champion has allowed him to relax heading into the new Formula One season.

Hamilton will take to the wheel of McLaren's new challenger, the MP4-24 that was unveiled today at the team's Technology Centre in Woking, for the first time on Wednesday at the Algarve Motor Park.

That will be 81 days after he was crowned F1 king, taking the title in dramatic circumstances on the final lap of the last race in Brazil.

In some respects, the wraps coming off the car were overshadowed by the announcement of Ron Dennis that he is to step down as team boss on 1 March, allowing long-time right-hand man and CEO Martin Whitmarsh to take up the reins.

Dennis is adamant he is not retiring, and will instead be focusing more of his time and efforts on other projects within the company.

The 61-year-old will still be attending grands prix, although with Whitmarsh making the final decision on matters.

It ensures a degree of continuity, and so little will change behind the scenes so far as Hamilton is concerned in his bid to attempt to retain the championship he won by a single point from Felipe Massa.

"I don't think there is any added pressure just because I'm now world champion," insisted Hamilton.

"In fact, I feel more relaxed going into the season simply because I'm coming off a great season.

"It is like when you go from race to race in that when you win one race, at the next you've extra confidence.

"I feel I have reset my goals, and reset my targets back to when I started in Formula One in that I want to be world champion.

"I don't sit here saying 'I am world champion'. I sit here saying 'I want to be world champion'."

Such an ambition is undoubtedly going to be more difficult for the 24-year-old this season than for past champions due to the raft of new regulations imposed for the coming campaign.

The revamped aerodynamics, with a wider front wing and raised rear to aid overtaking, the new kinetic energy recovery system (KERS), a return to slick tyres, and a ban on in-season testing, ensure the teams head into the year facing the unknown.

No one is sure as to who will have made the most of the new rules, with Hamilton adding: "Because we have a completely new car, a new package, I've sat down more with the engineers of late.

"It is like the preparation I had for 2007. I am understanding the differences in the suspension, KERS and all the safety aspects.

"But also the vital few tests we have, I have like only seven days in the car, and so we are going to make sure we really extract the most from those days.

"Hopefully we don't have any reliability problems, and we have been very, very fortunate in the past.

"In two years we have not had any reliability issues, so I am confident the team have done a great job."

The one area in which Hamilton feels he can improve is by making less mistakes, such as running into the back of Kimi Raikkonen in the pit lane in Montreal last season.

"I analysed the mistakes I made last year, for example in Montreal with the pit lane light," remarked Hamilton.

"Every time I now go down the pit lane I am always looking out for the light. You just have to learn from the previous experiences.

"I am sure there will be some experiences this year that will take you by surprise, and you are always learning. I am sure the oldest man in the world is still learning today.

"We just have to make sure we try to prepare ourselves in advance and try and avoid any mistakes."

Mentor Dennis, though, will now only be flitting in and out of the F1 picture over the coming years.

However, Dennis' decision allowed Hamilton to offer his thanks to a man who gave him his opportunity in the sport, and has nurtured him since the age of 13.

"Ron is a huge part of the team," remarked Hamilton.

"He has racing in his blood, so he will never leave. He will always play a part, and I will always remain close to him.

"I've known him since I was 10. We have a great relationship, and he has made a huge impact on my life - and he still does today - and we are great friends.

"But the great thing is we have great people in the team. It is a huge team, and we are very powerful together.

"It is not as if we are going to struggle. We are very fortunate that we will stay a strong team."