McLaren want Hamilton to feel the love

LONDON Mon Oct 15, 2012 1:24pm EDT

McLaren Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain greets fans before an autograph signing session at the Korea International Circuit ahead of the South Korean F1 Grand Prix in Yeongam October 13, 2012. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

McLaren Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain greets fans before an autograph signing session at the Korea International Circuit ahead of the South Korean F1 Grand Prix in Yeongam October 13, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji

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LONDON (Reuters) - McLaren have left Lewis Hamilton in no doubt that he will feel the love when he goes back to the Formula One team's factory this week for the first time since his move to Mercedes was announced last month.

The 2008 world champion, who returns to Woking on Friday for some work in the simulator before the Indian Grand Prix, declared his title hopes over for another season on Sunday after finishing 10th in the Korean Grand Prix.

His gritty performance in wrestling a damaged car to the finish prompted team boss Martin Whitmarsh to dig deep into his bag of superlatives, however, in declaring it possibly the most hard-fought single point he could recall in his decades at McLaren.

Hamilton has had a hard time of late, on and off the track. His decision to depart and his postings on Twitter, for some of which he has had to apologize, have intensified media scrutiny of his state of mind.

He has been portrayed as increasingly isolated, a feeling reinforced by his revelation that an attempt to take his mechanics bowling on the Saturday evening at the Japanese Grand Prix had been skittled by them as they had already accepted an invitation to go running with team mate Jenson Button.

Whitmarsh and Button, speaking separately to Reuters, were adamant that was not the case and Hamilton would get a proper send-off.

"Of course people were disappointed to lose someone like Lewis but Lewis has been here a long time and everyone is going to be giving everything for him," Whitmarsh said of a 27-year-old who has been part of the McLaren family since he was 13.

"One way or another I'm sure we'll get together and remember lots of fantastic achievements, many race wins, many poles, many great races and a great world championship in 2008.

"He's loved in this team and he knows that."

APPRECIATED

Hamilton has not won a race since last month's Italian Grand Prix but he appeared happier chatting with a mug of tea in front of him on Sunday evening in Yeongam than he had after his champagne celebrations at Monza.

He had wanted to show his commitment and in his heroic fight for just one point, he also made his point.

"It's nice to be appreciated, because I really didn't give up. It was one of the hardest races I have ever had," he told Reuters after hearing of the boss's praise.

"The car was a disaster and...I was thinking people are just going to say I'm making an excuse again. But I really wasn't.

"I have not been distracted once this year...I am still 100 percent a part of this team, right until the last minute. People will continue to say there's a rift between me and Jenson and there honestly are no issues between us. We've been fantastic team mates really," he added.

"I have been a part of this team for several years and I have honestly got a great relationship. I think I am loved as much as I love the team. Hopefully."

Button said his team mate, while not a close friend, was still a 'massive part' of McLaren.

The 2009 champion was also determined to put the record straight after a reporter for Britain's Sky television quoted him as allegedly saying, when Hamilton was late for a media briefing, that "Sergio wouldn't have been late'.

Mexican Sergio Perez is joining McLaren from Sauber as Hamilton's replacement.

"I didn't say a word of that. He (the reporter) said (also) that 'Lewis feels like he's left the team.' I don't think Lewis feels like that either," Button told Reuters.

"It's amazing how people are so opinionated about what they see happening within this team with the drivers. None of it is true in the slightest," continued the Briton. "The atmosphere in the team is fantastic and as far as I see with Lewis, he's focused and wants to win races.

"He's chosen to go his own way at the end of the year and that's his decision. I personally don't feel it's the right decision but it's his. The team will do everything they can to help him win grands prix because that's what they love doing.

"He's won a world championship with this team, they've got a great relationship."

(Editing by John Mehaffey)

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