Lewis Hamilton professed himself 'well happy' with a fighting sixth place in the Malaysian Grand Prix in Sepang, after the McLaren-Mercedes star provided much of the race's excitement and overtaking in the early stages with a superb damage limitation job from a lowly grid slot.
Left down in 20th place after qualifying – equalling the lowest position from which the 2008 F1 World Champion has ever begun a race at the highest level – Hamilton wasted little time in making up ground when the starting lights went out, staying on the inside into Turn One for the first time and exiting the corner already up to 13th.
From there, displaying characteristic well-channelled aggression and determination, the eleven-time grand prix-winner went on to pick off both Scuderia Toro Rossos and Kamui Kobayashi in the Sauber in swift succession, but he found promising Renault rookie Vitaly Petrov a rather tougher nut to crack, as the Russian boldly re-passed him and needed to be overtaken for a second time – with a bit of questionable weaving thrown in for good measure – before Hamilton could continue on with his eye-catching charge.
Once in clear air, the Stevenage-born ace proved to be the only man on-track capable of rivalling the lap times of runaway Red Bull Racing leaders Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber, and a mark of his progress could be taken from the fact that until the pit-stops began, neither team-mate Jenson Button nor Ferrari duo Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso were making very much impression at all from similar grid positions.
Whilst his challenge was blunted when he came up against similarly Mercedes-powered ex-F3 Euroseries team-mate Adrian Sutil in the fifth-placed Force India late into the race – dashing his hopes of a podium bid – nonetheless eight points for P6 represented a solid return from a tenth row start, and have kept Hamilton well in the hunt to repeat his title glory from two years ago.
“I had a great start, went down the inside and got past a lot of cars on the first lap,” reported the 25-year-old. “I was able to keep going for much of the race on my first set of tyres, and even nearly got past Sebastian [Vettel] after his pit-stop. After my stop, I tried my best to get past Adrian, but he was very smart at getting clean exits and was simply too fast down the straights. He drove a fantastic race – faultless, in fact.
“From 20th on the grid, I think sixth was a brilliant result. I reckon we showed today that we were fast enough to compete with the guys at the very front – and, that being the case, if we'd started farther up we could've had an even better result this afternoon. Overall, then, I'm well happy with my race – I couldn't ask for any more to be honest. The team really deserved this, and we're now closer to the top in the constructors' championship than we were before the race – so we'll take forward a lot of positives with us into the next race.”
At one point, indeed, the two Silver Arrows ran literally side-by-side as Hamilton exited the pit-lane from his sole pit-stop right alongside Button, who was barrelling down the start/finish straight having himself pitted rather earlier as the very first driver in the race to change tyres on lap nine.
On balance, it was the former's strategy that worked out better in the end, with Hamilton setting a best lap time almost eight tenths of a second quicker than his title-winning successor and scampering away late on to leave Button to fend off the dual Ferrari threat of Massa and Alonso. The 30-year-old went on to cross the finish line 14.5 seconds behind his team-mate in eighth, leaving him just four points off the lead in the drivers' standings.