Lewis Hamilton has opened up about his struggles with self-doubt during Mercedes' difficult and arduous 2023 F1 season.
Despite his unparalleled success as a Grand Prix driver, Hamilton has admitted that even he is not immune to the clutches of self-insecurity.
The relentless pressure of Formula 1, coupled with the Mercedes team's performance struggles, tested his resilience and confidence in 2023.
For the second year in a row, Hamilton and Mercedes have endured a tricky season and lagged behind runaway champions Red Bull.
The seven-time world champion managed one pole position in 2023 but suffered his second successive winless campaign.
In an interview with BBC Sport, Hamilton wasn’t shy about his struggles this year, admitting that there were times when he questioned himself.
“Ultimately, when you have difficult seasons like this, there are always going to be moments when you're like: 'Is it me, or is it the car? Do you still have it? Has it gone?’” the Briton said.
"Because you're missing that, you know... when the magic happens, when everything comes together, the car and you, and that spark, it's extraordinary. And that's what you're in the search for.
"I'm only human. If anyone in the world tells you they don't have those things, they're in denial. We're all human beings.”
Last summer, amid his challenging campaign, Hamilton extended his contract with Mercedes for an additional two years, a deal that will see remain on the grid until at least the end of 2025, well past his 40th birthday.
He admits that racing that far in his life was not part of his original plans.
"What you've got to learn is you should never say never,” he said. “But at that point, I definitely didn't think I'd be continuing.
“They are frickin' long seasons. It's a long time away from everyone. I've been doing it 16 years. It's grueling.”
Hamilton’s winless streak which goes all the way back to the 2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix added another layer of complexity to his decision to remain on the grid.
“There's a lot of glitz and glamour and lots of positives but it's by no means easy to stay at your best, to stay committed, to keep up the training, to continue to deliver. It's a lot of pressure,” he explained.
“You're being scrutinised all the time and I'm in a place in my life where there's no way I can win.
"If I win a race, it's: 'Oh, he's a seven-time world champion, you got 103 wins.' If I don't do well, it's [criticism]… I can only lose at this point in life.
“So for sure there was a period of time when I was questioning whether I wanted to go through that.”
Ultimately, Hamilton’s unwavering passion for the sport took precedence over the strain and difficulties.
"I still love driving,” he said. “I still love getting into the car. When they start the car up and you have all those people around you, the crew, you go down the pit lane, I still get this smile on my face the same as I did the first day I drove.
"Most of my race performances have been really good. So that, I am happy with - building back up to the level I should be."