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 Sébastien 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.