Reigning F1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton criticised his McLaren-Mercedes team in the wake of the German Grand Prix at the N?rburgring for not having let him retire his car and save his engine and gearbox when he fell almost a lap down at the start - suggesting the exercise of carrying on to the end was a 'waste of time'.

Having qualified a superb fifth - matching his season best from Bahrain back in April - Hamilton made a lightning, KERS-aided getaway when the lights went out to vault past second row starters Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel and audaciously pull right alongside Mark Webber and Rubens Barrichello on the outside line on the run down to turn one for the first time.

In struggling to slow down sufficiently, however, the British star clipped the front wing of the Red Bull Racing with his rear tyre and went straight on, leaving him with a puncture and a damaged car - and having to complete the remaining 59 laps with a heavy fuel load and little hope of achieving anything worthwhile. A lapped 18th and last at the chequered flag - after lapping two seconds off the leading pace throughout - he would have been better, he claimed, parking his car in the garage.

"My race was effectively over at turn one," lamented the 24-year-old. "I had an okay start and quite a good launch down to turn one, and then I was braking and all-of-a-sudden I felt a tap from the rear and I went straight on. That left me with a flat tyre and damaged the rear floor, and after that I was out there just really driving on ice.

"There was nothing I could do; I was pushing and pushing, but it was a waste of time - I was down by 70 or 80 seconds. I suggested to the team that we save the engine and gearbox for hopefully a better race in the future - because there's a lot more potential ahead of us than we'd anticipated before this weekend - and we just used it all."

Nonetheless, the Stevenage-born ace was enthusiastic about the aerodynamic improvements brought to the hitherto underperforming MP4-24 for the weekend - and he hinted that a return to the rostrum, and the top step at that, may no longer be that far away...

"The team have done a fantastic job over the last few weeks," underlined the nine-time grand prix-winner. "Literally I had a damaged car - the rear floor was destroyed on the right side, so it wasn't really working correctly and I wasn't able to experience the updates I had. At least we were competitive this weekend, though, we'll move on and I'm already looking forward to the next race.

"The best thing about this weekend was that our updates were successful. It's put us on the right road because, before, we were almost up to a dead end. With more updates coming, I hope within the next three or four races we [will be] competing for wins. I honestly think we can do that."

Having produced a stellar qualifying effort to line up alongside his team-mate on row three of the grid despite not benefitting from the same full package of upgrades, Heikki Kovalainen made a similarly strong start and ran third throughout the opening stint of the grand prix, ably fending off a visibly faster train of cars behind him comprised of Jenson Button, Felipe Massa, Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen amongst others.

Dropping back in the pit-stops, however, the inferior pace of the Finn's McLaren - with just the 17th-fastest lap time to his name out of the 20 starters - soon began to tell as the man from Suomussalmi slipped behind his pursuers and increasingly into the clutches of the next baying pack behind. Ultimately crossing the finish line eighth, he did so closely tracked by Timo Glock, Nick Heidfeld, Giancarlo Fisichella and Kazuki Nakajima - narrowly fending his challengers off to grab the final marker, his first since Shanghai five races ago.

"If you'd told me on Friday that I would score points, I wouldn't have believed it," the 27-year-old confessed afterwards of a determinedly defensive drive to secure a well-deserved point. "This weekend has been difficult - it's been hard to get the tyres working and to find grip, but we kept pushing throughout every session and things started to turn around. Qualifying went well, and our KERS hybrid helped me to move from sixth to third at the start.

"From that point on, it was all about defending; I pushed the whole time, and it was a hard way to earn points but we can be satisfied about it. KERS made my race, no doubt about it, and I'm now really looking forward to the Hungarian Grand Prix, when I'll get my hands on the full aero upgrade package for the first time. It's good for the whole team that we now seem to be moving forwards again."

That notwithstanding, McLaren is being caught for sixth position in the constructors' title standings by a similarly resurgent Renault, who have closed to within just a single point courtesy of Fernando Alonso's seventh place in Germany. The multiple world championship-winning, Woking-based outfit's team principal Martin Whitmarsh knows that the squad needs to start reaping the on-track rewards of its improved performance as soon as possible.

"Lewis and Heikki both made great starts, assisted by the KERS hybrid," the Englishman reflected. "In fact, Lewis could have taken the lead at the first corner if he hadn't been hit by Mark, with the collision resulting in a puncture. That was a great shame, because his car was competitive here and I'm therefore sure he would have been able to score well with it.

"More frustratingly still, after having to make an unscheduled pit-stop as a result of that puncture, he emerged in the worst possible track position - at the front of the field. He therefore had to observe the blue flags and allow all the front-runners past, causing him to lose further time.

"Heikki showed great spirit throughout the weekend, performing consistently well despite not having access to all the aero upgrades enjoyed by Lewis, and ending up with a solid eighth-place finish and a useful world championship point. Now, though, we're already looking forward to going to Budapest, where both our drivers will have the aero upgrades and we ought therefore to be able to put in a competitive showing with both cars."

"The first few hundred metres looked promising when Lewis put his nose in front for a fraction of a second after starting from fifth place," added Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Vice-President Norbert Haug. "He ran wide after being hit before the corner and got a puncture. Heikki showed a solid performance with the old-spec underfloor and brought home a point at least. We have to further improve - but this was a good first step."

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