Having finally got back on the victory trail again in this weekend's Hungarian Grand Prix following nine long months away from the podium, reigning F1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton has promised to keep pushing hard to return to the top step on a regular basis – as he admitted that it was 'an incredible feeling to be back'.
Off the back of title glory in 2008, Hamilton and McLaren have endured an abject season this year so far, with the MP4-24 proving to be off the pace from the word 'go' – a staggering 2.5 seconds when it first took to the winter test tracks – and frequently incapable of battling for points, let alone anything else.
An upgrade package for the German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring a fortnight ago, however, produced a marked improvement to the aerodynamically-afflicted contender – enabling the Stevenage-born ace to line up fifth on the starting grid – and the tight, twisty nature of the Hungaroring was always expected to be even more to the car's liking. So it would prove.
Quickest in two of the three free practice sessions and rapid in the initial phases of qualifying, Hamilton was tipped in some quarters as a genuine contender for pole – and he admitted afterwards to being a touch disappointed with fourth. On race day, though, the 24-year-old would more than make amends, using his KERS to good effect to vault past front row-sitter Sebastian Vettel into third when the starting lights went out, very nearly also stealing second off the sister Red Bull Racing of Mark Webber too before intelligently finding a way past around the outside of turn two just a handful of laps later.
From there, he gave chase to former team-mate Fernando Alonso in the Renault, whittling down the Spaniard's margin over him by dint of a series of fastest laps, and when his quarry pitted and subsequently dropped out of the action due to an errant wheel, Hamilton was suddenly in the lead.
Benefitting from his own strong pace and pit-stop calamities for his pursuers – Webber and Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen chief amongst them – the British star pulled inexorably away much in the manner of his nine previous triumphs from the last two years, and he would take the chequered flag with more than ten seconds in-hand over the Finn for an entirely unanticipated success. Hamilton had insisted ahead of the race that McLaren was not yet ready to win again. Happily for him and his team, he was wrong.
“It's an incredible feeling to be back on the top spot after what feels like such a long time and such a struggle,” he enthused afterwards. “This was one of my best races – I never gave up and, more importantly, neither did anyone in this team. I'm so proud of all the guys. We didn't expect to win today – we didn't think we quite had the overall pace – but the car was just perfect to drive. It felt fantastic for the entire race.
“We need to take as much as we can from this weekend. We'll continue to push, because that's the only way this team knows. Now we want to be winners on a regular basis. Finally, my thoughts are with Felipe [Massa] today. Despite our celebrations, it's important to remember that there's a guy lying in a hospital bed tonight, and I think I speak on behalf of everyone when I say that we all had Felipe in our hearts and minds today and we wish him a speedy recovery.”
Team-mate Heikki Kovalainen in the sister Silver Arrow, for his part, had a rather more frustrating race, holding position in sixth at the start and moving into podium contention with a long first stint and strong middle part of the race as he pressurised Webber for third, only to be forced to settle for fifth in the final reckoning after encountering overheating front tyres and frustratingly ceding position to Nico Rosberg during the second round of pit-stops.