Whitmarsh: Hamilton can lead McLaren

Lewis Hamilton is ready to step up to the plate as McLaren team leader next year and become the team's focus in their bid to win the world championship

Whitmarsh: Hamilton can lead McLaren

That is the view of McLaren F1 CEO Martin Whitmarsh, who thinks that Hamilton's strengths are making their job easier in choosing a suitable second driver to replace Fernando Alonso.

And he has dropped a big hint that the team could promote test drivers Pedro de la Rosa and Gary Paffett in 2008, rather than look outside the team for Hamilton's teammate.

Speaking to this week's Autosport, Whitmarsh said: "The reality is that Lewis is now an absolutely proven product. He can lead a team and he can be the talisman that can take us to a championship.

"Consequently, there's not a lot of difficulty for the team - we already have within the team two very competitive and great drivers in the form of Pedro de la Rosa and Gary Paffett. And we've got to find people who are better than them - and that's not easy.

"There aren't many drivers in the world who you could say are materially better than those two, and we're mindful of the stability that using drivers who are already within the team brings us.

"And we'll see how it unfolds. Obviously, Fernando will have some impact on the driver market at some point in the future."

Although the team do not plan to abandon their policy of complete equality of treatment for their two drivers, it is clear they feel that Hamilton can naturally take up the role of leader.

"Let's be frank, he is already," added Whitmarsh, who thinks that Hamilton will be much better in his second year of F1 than he was in his first. "With the team now, he's got the confidence, self-belief and knowledge.

"I've worked with him over a number of years and I've seen how much he's improved in his second year; how much he's learnt in Formula Renault and F3. And it must be a worrying prospect for anyone else in Formula One to see.

"He has grown and matured enormously in Formula One in the past year, despite the fact he was on a podium in his first Grand Prix. We shouldn't underestimate how much he has developed as a racing driver and as a person. And he will arrive in Australia believing he can win - that's fantastic for him and for the team.

"We've got to deliver; we've got to make sure we have a car that is quicker and we will do. It's got to be quicker by a sufficient margin that we're up there looking for poles and race wins - and I think we will too."

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