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McLaren MD tips Hamilton to be back to best

McLaren MD Jonathan Neale says that he expects Lewis Hamilton to be back on form in 2012.

The McLaren team believes that Lewis Hamilton will back firing on all cylinders when the 2012 F1 season finally gets underway, having taken a winter away from the sport to get over the malaise that affected his 2011 campaign.

The Briton is currently enjoying a ski trip to the Rocky Mountains as part of a US-based sojourn, and McLaren managing director Jonathan Neale reckons that the break is doing him good. Although he ended the 2011 season strongly, with pole position in Korea and victory in Abu Dhabi, Hamilton suffered an uncharacteristic slump mid-season as he allowed personal problems to deflect his attention away from racing.

"I'm speaking to him most weeks, [and] he's getting himself together," Neale told the BBC, "He's winter training really hard and he's in the right place, doing the things he needs to be doing."

Despite no track action being possible until early February, when pre-season testing kicks off in Jerez, Neale admits that Hamilton is doing what he needs to do to be in the best shape - physically and mentally - to return and challenge for the title. However, with the new McLaren due to be unveiled on 1 February, six days before testing gets underway, the MD acknowledges that that will be the first real test of Hamilton's rehabilitation.

"What he needs to do is get himself in the car," Neale insisted, "He's only got something to prove to himself. He's his own biggest critic. He puts extremely high demands on himself - we at the team are here to support him. It's a tough business, you've got to get the job done."

Neale admitted that McLaren also had a little healing of its own to do, but was attempting to do just that both on track and off.

"One of the things we measure is our 'did-not-score' rate," he revealed, "If we had a good car that was capable of scoring good points in that race and we didn't, we go back and ask ourselves why. There have been a number of operational issues we've needed to get fixed and some of the changes we're making in our line-up and some of the processes - and bringing people like Sam Michael on board - are aimed at tackling some of those issues."

While he naturally hoped that his team would be able to challenge form victories from the off, something that took a little longer than expected in 2011, Neale admitted that he expected both Ferrari and Red Bull to provide stiff opposition.

"Who knows who will come out with what?" he reasoned, "Ferrari have obviously got a lot to prove this year [but], from the glimpse we got of how their car was at Silverstone without the blown diffuser, they were quick, so they have some capability there. Red Bull have been good for the last two years [and] they sorted out their reliability last year. The whole car hangs together well for Red Bull and, with an evolutionary set of rules, they would be disappointed if they weren't among the frontrunners.

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