SUZUKA, Japan, Oct 10, 2011 (Tim Collings / AFP) - McLaren team chief Martin Whitmarsh has backed Lewis Hamilton to bounce back from his recent string of disappointments to win again and be a title contender next season.
Whitmarsh said he believed the 26-year-old Englishman's difficulties this year have sapped his confidence, but he is just one win away from rediscovering his form as the world's fastest and most exciting racing driver.
Speaking after Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix won by Hamilton's team-mate and fellow-Briton Jenson Button, Whitmarsh said: "He's a great racing driver. His heart is in it and he is very open about his emotions. He doesn't like not winning, but it will come good.
"I hope that this time next week we are celebrating one of Lewis's greatest ever victories -- and that is entirely possible. We all know he's got it, we know we've got a car that can win and he has got the capability to do it.
"We just have to make sure he has the focus and ensure that we do that." Whitmarsh spoke out as Hamilton avoided being dragged into a new controversy after a brush with Brazilian Felipe Massa of Ferrari in Sunday's race in which Hamilton finished fifth.
Massa blamed Hamilton for their third collision this year and second in successive races. Hamilton accepted the blame, apologised and said he had not seen him in his mirrors - a hint that was taken by Whitmarsh who promised the team will look into the problem.
He added: "I think he has got to be comfortable in himself, and it will come.
"You look at any top international athlete. Their confidence and form ebbs and flows a little bit and you have to say that, at the moment, some of it is luck. He is in a situation where he will, and can, recover very, very quickly from that.
"Sadly, they do seem to be magnetised don't they? Lewis did not see him. You could say 'well he should have done', but are the mirrors big enough, good enough? Maybe not, but it was one of those things."
He praised Hamilton for driving a controlled race to score some valuable points for the team, but conceded that the emotional Englishman will feel disappointed again at his own results at a time when Button is demonstrating the excellence of their car.
Button's victory was his third this year, one more than Hamilton has enjoyed. Button has also reeled off five successive podium finishes including two wins, two seconds and a third while, in the same period, since his last win in Germany in late July, Hamilton has failed to claim a podium.
Despite this, Whitmarsh was adamant that Hamilton can return to form in the final four races of the year, starting in Korea next weekend. "We have a race car -- and we have felt this for the last few races -- that can win races," he said. "These last few races - they are all winnable. We would like to win them.
"We are in that interesting situation where the championship is finished, but there is a good fight in the drivers' championship for second place now.
"That does not inspire many of us, but we have to concentrate on that because the constructors' championship looks reasonably settled in terms of the top four places now.
"For us, it is now about winning races and we will concentrate on that. We like winning races and this was our fifth victory this year. If we win the next four then we will consider it a half respectable season."