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McLaren tells Hamilton it still supports him 100%
McLaren managing director Jonathan Neale insists his team is still "100%" behind Lewis Hamilton and is determined to give him the best possible car next season in order to convince him to stay beyond 2012.
Hamilton has endured arguably the most difficult year of his career this season, after a string of disappointing results, penalties and accidents. He is currently 32 points behind his team-mate Jenson Button in the drivers' standings and recently admitted that he is not "in the best place" in his life right now.
Asked if he was concerned by Hamilton's recent poor form and subdued demeanour, Neale told the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes phone-in: "Certainly I'm concerned to make sure that he feels and understands that we are 100% behind him, and this team certainly is, and the workforce love everything about Lewis Hamilton. But we want to take care of him and it's been a difficult season for him, he's not had the car to really get the job done this year, but what he's done with it has been fantastic and we're 100% behind him."
Hamilton's contract at McLaren runs out at the end of next year and there has been speculation that he might look to move to either Red Bull or Ferrari. But Neale is confident McLaren can offer him a more competitive car next year, and in doing so will encourage him to stay beyond 2012.
"We're very confident that he'll be firing on all cylinders again for next year," Neale said. "We've got to give him the car to get the job done and that's the team's responsibility and that's what are plans will be. But I'm under no illusion that any racing driver wants to be in a team that can win. Consistently we have shown that we can win at McLaren, we are disappointed not to have won the world championship this year, but we've put up a good fight from the start of the season and on a number of occasions we've had the quickest car - as we did in Japan. We've shown that they [Red Bull] are vulnerable and the rest of us have got to work harder."
Hamilton described his recent fifth-place finish at Japanese Grand Prix as 'shocking' after he finished off the pace of team-mate and race winner Button. But Neale defended Hamilton's performance, saying his strategy was ruined by a puncture in his first stint and that the team may have hampered him in his second stint by misinterpreting the data after that.
"He was always going to be on the back foot with a three stop strategy, having pulled in ahead of about lap 10," Neale said. "I think consequently that when we were looking at whether that was either puncture or tyre temperature related, we may have got a wrong steer from the data in that first stint and we may have compromised his second stint. As a team we will take a good look at that, but it was always going to be tough from the moment that happened.
"We certainly saw issues of slowly declining pressure in the rear tyres and Lewis was complaining of handling issue and the rear tyres dropping away. We had no option, looking at his lap times, to bring him in and change his tyres at that point. Beyond that, it was just massively disappointing for him because he doesn't like to be rolling around in P4 or P5, that's not where Lewis Hamilton's heart is and that's not where we want him either."