Lewis Hamilton says the difficult phase or "thick slog" endured by Mercedes this season in F1 has fueled his motivation to remain onboard next year.
After losing the 2021 title to Red Bull's Max Verstappen on the last lap of the last race of the year, in controversial circumstances, a revengeful Hamilton was ready to hit the ground running at the outset of the 2022 season.
But wholesale changes to Formula 1's technical regulations had forced a reset on teams, and from the get-go Mercedes' 2022 car and its innovative zero sidepod concept struggled versus its rivals.
For Hamilton, the prospect of a record eighth world title went from a hard target to an unattainable achievement in just a handful of races.
The 37-year-old Briton admits that a triumphant outcome in Abu Dhabi and another season of clear sailing would have put him in a very different frame of mind this year.
"I think if we had just won last year and then we would win this year, life would be in a different place and you’d be on a different course," he told RACER's Chris Medland.
"I love that it’s gone through an even harder phase and we’ve got to pull through that thick slog and get to the point where we are a little bit lighter and we’re floating a little bit more.
"So yeah, I would say that it’s encouraged me to stay longer.
"Plus, I’m feeling fit. I’m finding ways of feeling better physically. The mental challenge is a consistent thing and that will always be the case because that’s how it is for us athletes because we’re on the edge.
"I like to think I still deserve a place here, and there is lots of work to do."
Since his F1 debut with McLaren in 2007, Hamilton has never endured a winless campaign. While Mercedes has improved its form in the back half of the season thanks to the tireless efforts of its crews, a win on merit remains a tall order for the Brackley squad.
How has the seven-time world champion coped with the shortfall and not standing on the top step of the podium for the first time in 15 years?
"Does it hurt? I wouldn’t say it hurts," Hamilton said.
"We all know what it could be. We would love to be in that battle fighting, and I wish that all the cars were a lot closer and we were all having a much better battle closer to the front.
"I wish there was only tenths between us all, you know? But that’s not the way our sport is.
"So I don’t worry about that. It’s not something I can control at the moment. I just focus on what I can (do) and that is trying to do a better job with what we have got and steering it.
"My worry, what is keeping me up at night, is what have I left out? Who do I need to speak to at the track? How can I support Bono (race engineer Pete Bonington)? How can I support Marcus (Dudley, performance engineer) and Shov (trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin)?
"In the aero department, how can I support them to make better choices for the next car? When I damage the car, I take money away from the budget and I’m like, ‘Oh, God! Don’t do that!’
"That’s really what I’ve been focusing on, and I’m hoping when we come back in February next year, the car touches the ground and it does what we hope it does."
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