McLaren yesterday unveiled their most crucial challenger in recent years – the car that must keep Lewis Hamilton in the Woking team.
Their 2008 world champion will be out of contract at the end of 2012 and has recently been linked again with a move to Red Bull Racing alongside the double champion Sebastian Vettel for 2013 if McLaren are not competitive straight away this year. Hamilton has admitted that he is keen to sort out his future sooner rather than later.
Everything, though, will depend on how well the new MP4-27 shapes up and, as his team-mate Jenson Button pointed out, despite the four upcoming test sessions, nobody will really know that until Saturday, 17 March, and qualifying for the Australian GP.
A relaxed and cheerful Hamilton said yesterday he is back "on all cylinders" after a lengthy winter break relaxing and taking time out for some soul-searching after his troubled 2011 season, in which he was beaten overall by a team-mate for the first time.
"I discussed things a lot with family and friends," he said, "seeking their opinions on things, where I can improve. I knew where things were wrong with my life, but it's not always easy to clarify and clear them. I made a list of things, and I'm still working on them.
"This will be my sixth season of F1, but it's not as if the last five have been a disaster, is it? It's been a roller-coaster, but an enjoyable one. Every year you need a rest, to look at where you are, because F1 is draining.
"It's all about how you spread your energy over all the races. Some years you get the balance perfect and others you don't have it all together. In 2011, I had a lot less energy and my focus was not where it needed to be. There were lots of highs and lows. It was one of the toughest, there was a lot of competition.
"People ask whether I use a mind coach, but I've never felt the need. When I was growing up, it was always me and my dad, and my brother Nic is wise for a young kid. Some of my friends are quite wise, too. I know where I go wrong, and I learn from that and am able to coach myself. But you've got to have balance, and to be in control.
"Now I think I'm back at 100 per cent. I'm in a sport where it's all in the mind. If you have 100 per cent capacity to focus, then you get the results. If you are clogged up and only working at 60 per cent, that translates to a loss of lap time. I was only 90 per cent in Abu Dhabi but I won, and I'm back to 100 per cent now.
"The hard work that's gone into building this car is very inspiring, and I think it's probably the most refined-looking car we've had for some time, so I'm very excited to get back into it."
Button's situation is easier, after his great races in 2011. For him, the MP4-27 is the car that needs to take him up just one more step, after he finished second to Vettel last year. He, too, has had a long break, but has been working in the simulator in McLaren's Woking factory since 5 January, bonding further with his engineers and mechanics. And his view of Hamilton? "It's no different to how it was when I arrived [at McLaren]. He is always fast and competitive."
Sutil: Lewis is a 'coward'
Lewis Hamilton was described as "a coward" yesterday by Adrian Sutil for not testifying at the German's assault trial this week.
Sutil, given an 18-month suspended sentence and fined £167,000, said: "Lewis is a coward. I do not want to be friends with someone like that. He is for me no man." A McLaren official stopped Hamilton from commenting.