SUZUKA // When Lewis Hamilton won the world championship in 2008, no hyperbole was too much for the young McLaren-Mercedes driver. He was the youngest drivers' title winner the sport had ever seen; he was an aggressive, appealing racer and he was earning praise and plaudits across the paddock.
How times change.
Sebastian Vettel, the Red Bull Racing driver, usurped the Englishman as F1's youngest champion when he won the title in Abu Dhabi last year and, while Vettel will almost certainly secure a second successive championship this weekend in Japan, 26-year-old Hamilton is enduring the most difficult season of his career.
A collision with Ferrari's Felipe Massa last month in Singapore highlighted once more the potential pitfalls of Hamilton's aggressive racing, with the Brazilian confronting and chastising him in the paddock after the race.
Yesterday, however, Hamilton downplayed the issue and instead pointed his finger towards 2008.
"I don't have an answer for it," he said of his poor season. "I don't see anyone else having the problems I am having, and also I don't see many people who have achieved what I have achieved.
"Up until 2008, I've won a championship every second year of my career since I was eight years old, so I've done pretty well until now. But I've had a couple of tough years and they are the most trying years - and this has probably been the most trying year, the most testing year, of my career so far."
Massa was reluctant to dwell on the incident in Singapore that saw his race effectively ended by Hamilton for the second time this season. He said any suggestions of approaching the FIA, the world motorsports governing body, regarding his rival's driving were wide of the mark.
"I have nothing to say because everything he does, he pays for," Massa said. "The FIA is doing what is inside the regulations.
"If you cause an accident, or if you drive not in the right way, you are going to have a drive-through [penalty]. And he had a drive-through. It's time enough for him to learn, to be honest."
Several reports since Singapore have laid the blame for Hamilton's disappointing season at the feet of his new management company, Simon Fuller's XIX Management - the same company that looks after David Beckham and Andy Murray. Hamilton's father, Anthony, who previously represented his son but now looks after Force India's Paul di Resta, had suggested XIX Management should be more supportive of their client.
But Hamilton is adamant he is "very, very happy" working with Fuller and said "it is one of the best decisions I've made".
He said: "When I spoke to my dad, he just said he wanted me to be happy, so I told him I am happy. I've got great people in my life, I have great management, I have great family and friends, and people that I enjoy being around. He said 'as long as you are happy, I am happy'. I think he is just a concerned father, which is normal."