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New McLaren for birthday boy Hamilton
January 07, 2008 23:09 IST
Lewis Hamilton [Images] celebrated his 23rd birthday on Monday by showing off the car that McLaren hope will take him to the Formula One title as the youngest champion this season.
The Briton, runner-up last year in an astonishing rookie season in which he lost out by a single point to Ferrari's [Images] Kimi Raikkonen [Images] in the final race, said he was more determined and hungrier than ever.
"I honestly feel stronger," he told reporters after the MP4-23 car had been rolled out at the Mercedes museum in Stuttgart, with Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone taking a front row seat.
"I feel great right now. I've done a lot of really good preparation already, way before the first test even, and I just believe that it's a fresh start for us all, turning over a new leaf," added Hamilton.
"With the experience of last year I feel even stronger than I was. I can't wait to get back into the car and I'm extremely excited about the first race."
Hamilton's debut proved the highlight of a traumatic year for McLaren, who were fined $100 million (50.7 million pounds) and stripped of all their constructors' points for a spying controversy over leaked Ferrari data.
The Briton reeled off nine podium finishes in succession at the beginning of the year, unprecedented for a rookie, and took four wins from his 17 starts.
Now cast as team leader on the track after the departure of Spain's unhappy double world champion Fernando Alonso [Images] back to Renault, Hamilton said he would take the same approach to his racing as last year.
"Fingers crossed, but with the same sort of mentality and determination I think we can do well," he said.
"I thoroughly enjoyed last year, just the whole year. It was just the best year of my life but I know it can be better."
Hamilton has a new team mate, Heikki Kovalainen, the Finn whose place at Renault was taken by Alonso and who joins McLaren with an assurance of equal treatment.
"I would not have come to the team if I did not think I had an equal chance to fight," he told reporters.
"I have exactly the same opportunity as Lewis has and then it's up to me."
The launch was low on fanfare, a marked contrast to the circus and fireworks that followed last year's floodlit street racing extravaganza in Valencia, and represented a return to fundamentals.
Stuttgart, home of the team's 40 percent stakeholders and engine partners Mercedes, was chosen as launch venue for the first time in what some saw as a sign of the changing balance of power within the team.
"We are determined to lead the field this season," Daimler chairman Dieter Zetsche told the audience. "Lewis has already publicly promised to bring home the bacon in 2008 and we will do whatever we can to help him fulfil this promise."
McLaren chief executive Martin Whitmarsh said the new car looked promising already.
"We already know that the car is quicker than the one we raced in Brazil [Images] (at the end of last season)," he said. "There's a lot more lap time to be added to the car before the start of the season."
The first race is in Australia on March 16.
Formula One: The Complete Coverage