Lewis Hamilton reflects on his 'year of growth'

By Andrew BensonBBC Sport in Sao Paulo

Lewis Hamilton says he will look back on a trying season as a "year of growth" from which he will emerge stronger in the future.

The McLaren driver has had a topsy-turvy year marked by three wins and a number of on and off-track incidents.

"In future I will look back on this year and smile and say: 'I needed that,'" Hamilton said ahead of the Brazilian Grand Prix.

"I've grown up a lot this year and I want to take it into next year."

Hamilton said he was in a "positive" mood in Brazil this weekend, but that this had little to do with his third victory of the season in Abu Dhabi at the weekend.

He spent some time in Los Angeles with his former girlfriend, the pop singer Nicole Scherzinger, and was wearing a necklace she had given him as a gift.

From LA, he said, he went on to New York, where he also spent some time with the R&B singer Mary J Blige.

"I'm coming off a positive two weeks," Hamilton said. 'The last few days have been really positive. I'm excited to be here and be starting afresh. There's no reason why this can't be the start of something."

His season had been marked by incredible highs, including his three victories, but also some lows, including a series of incidents with the Ferrari driver Felipe Massa. He has also been through some personal issues with his family, and split with Scherzinger last month.

"I was talking to a friend just recently who is very wise and I said it's been a difficult year, and he said it's not been a difficult year, it's been a year of growth, which I thought was one of the most positive things I've heard."

He added: "There's not been one particular biggest problem, you're learning all the way through.

"This year it has been a mixture of things, I don't really want to talk about it because it's done and dusted, it's happened, I feel positive about where I am right now and where I'm going. It's nothing to do with the win, it's about life.

"I've got a great job, a great family and I've neglected that a little bit."

The 26-year-old said he felt he would go into 2012 stronger as a result of his difficulties this season.

"I think I will do," Hamilton said. "I can't say I'm there yet, but when I get to the winter and reflect on the whole season, I am definitely a lot wiser than when I started this season."

Hamilton lies fifth in the championship heading into the final race of the season, but has an outside chance of overhauling Ferrari's Fernando Alonso and Red Bull's Mark Webber for third or fourth place behind dominant world champion Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull.

However, Hamilton cannot catch Button, who is the first team-mate ever to beat him over a season.

When Button joined McLaren two years ago he talked about relishing the "challenge" of taking on Hamilton in the same car, and has since described him as "one of the fastest drivers ever to race in F1".

But on Thursday Button played down the importance of beating Hamilton on points this season.

"If we were fighting for the world championship and one of us came out on top it would be a very special feeling," Button said, "but we're not in that position right now.

"For me, I'm happy with what I've achieved this year, in terms of getting the best out of the car. Japan really stands out as being a great race. But also some other races that we haven't been able to win.

"It's not so much about whether you beat your team-mate over a whole season because so many things can happen, reliability issues, incidents that maybe aren't your fault.

"If you clinch the title it makes a big difference, when you're fighting for second it's not quite the same."

The biggest threat to Button's second place is Alonso, who is 10 points adrift of the McLaren driver in third.

But Alonso said he was not interested in whether he finished second, third or fourth - although he did acknowledge that finishing ahead of drivers in faster cars than him would mean something.

"It is good for me, self-confidence, knowing we finish the season better than some other guys who are behind me with more competitive cars," the Spaniard said.

"We are nearly 300 points behind Red Bull (in the constructors' championship) and 130 points behind McLaren and even with that I am still ahead of Webber and Hamilton.

"But in two weeks' time no one will remember this. The important thing is to work for next year and be the first in the championship in the November next year."