For the reigning Formula 1 World Champion, 13th place in the Turkish Grand Prix may appear to be something of a disaster, but Lewis Hamilton retained a smile on his face after 58 'uneventful' laps of the Istanbul Park Circuit today in which he 'drove to his full potential' - and as he continues to keep faith with McLaren-Mercedes, he admits that he hopes his fans similarly don't lose faith in him.

Having fallen at the first hurdle in qualifying and lined up a lowly 16th on the starting grid, Hamilton actually dropped back early on in the race, and on a heavy single-stop fuel load, later seemed helpless to defend his position as Rubens Barrichello and S?bastien Buemi both swept by with seemingly comparative ease.

For a combative driver used to giving his all, it looked like the fight had gone in the wake of a desultory start to the 2009 campaign that has seen the 24-year-old notch up a mere nine points from the opening seven races - but a spirited mid-race duel with erstwhile GP2 Series rival Nelsinho Piquet in the Renault proved that the competitive fire is still very much alight, and the nine-time grand prix-winner afterwards professed himself pleased with his performance.

"It was quite an uneventful race but I actually enjoyed myself this afternoon," reported the Stevenage-born ace. "I was very heavy at the start, but I just pushed and pushed. That's why I can smile - because I think I drove to my full potential.

"The most important thing is for us to keep our heads up and to keep pushing. I see my role from now on as helping the team to cure the problems with this year's car and to make next year's car the best it can possibly be. When the team gives me a car to win, I will win.

"Now we look ahead to Silverstone - I really wish Jenson [Button] all the best; he did a fantastic job today. Personally, I hope I can come away from my home race with a great feeling from my home fans. I hope they won't give up supporting me."

Hamilton at least fared better in Turkey than team-mate Heikki Kovalainen, who despite beginning a couple of spots higher up the grid and gaining ground at the start rather than losing it, ultimately wound up 14th at the chequered flag after being advised to reduce his engine settings late on to preserve his Mercedes-Benz motor.

Along the way there was an enthralling cat-and-mouse scrap with the recovering Brawn GP of Barrichello, with the Finn doing a fine job to withstand the advances of a patently quicker car for lap after lap and exploiting his KERS power boost down the start-finish straight to get back ahead of his Brazilian rival after finding himself out-witted through the final corners. Kovalainen would end up having the last laugh, as Barrichello spun following light contact on lap eight in his desperate efforts to find a way by.

"This was a character-building race for everybody in the team," reflected the man who this time twelve months ago had achieved the maiden front row starting position of his top flight career in Istanbul. "At the start of the race, I really got the maximum out of the car and I'm pleased about that. I had a good fight with Rubens too - it was great to be racing hard and fair, and it was very satisfying to keep a faster car at bay with some good old-fashioned racing tactics and also our KERS hybrid.

"In the final stint, the engineers elected to turn down the revs to protect my engine. Still, we have to be realistic - we finished 14th and we all know we can do better. We've had some great days in the past, and we'll continue to push hard to enjoy some great days in the future."

Having struggled around the similarly high-speed Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona last month, McLaren arrived in Turkey anticipating a tough weekend with its aerodynamically-poor MP4-24 - and that is precisely what it got. There is likely to be little cause for any greater joy in the British Grand Prix at Silverstone next up on the calendar in a fortnight's time - and the underperforming Woking-based outfit's team principal Martin Whitmarsh acknowledged that both drivers deserve far, far better. He was also adamant that all concerned will be working night and day to produce the improvements that justify their talent and potential.

"In extremely frustrating circumstances, both Lewis and Heikki performed very impressively this afternoon," the Englishman contended. "They both tried their hardest throughout the race, and we're grateful for their sterling efforts. Of course, it's frustrating that two such forceful drives went unrewarded in terms of world championship points, but the fact is that our car just isn't as quick as we'd like it to be.

"Now, we'll go back to Woking and we'll work hard to rectify its deficiencies, but there's no magic cure. Instead, the remedy will be found via hard work, and one thing our team isn't afraid of is hard work - which, it goes without saying, I'm also extremely grateful for.

"Returning to the subject of today's race, the fact that Rubens, in an extremely competitive car, was unable to make anything of his afternoon once he'd got bogged down at the start, demonstrates all-too clearly that, in modern-day Formula 1 - as close-fought as it is - it's more-or-less impossible to make useful progress from the back of the field. That may be frustrating, but it's true nonetheless."

"We knew that this type of circuit would be difficult for us," concurred Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Vice-President Norbert Haug. "Whereas the car works okay in sector three with its long straight and tight corners where we are as quick as anybody, we struggle massively in the quick parts of this racetrack. We have to make fundamental improvements, and everybody in the team is aware of that. Thanks to Lewis and Heikki, who both drove faultless races and extracted the maximum from their cars.

"The Brawn car and Jenson Button are in a league of their own - so none of their competitors can currently be satisfied, and certainly we the least. Congratulations for the sixth win from Jenson in the seventh race of the season, and a big thank you to our engine guys who have put in a perfect effort so far."

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