Off the back of a result that was arguably better than he could have expected to achieve in the inaugural Korean Grand Prix just over a week ago, Lewis Hamilton concedes that the secret to staying in the F1 2010 World Championship title fight will be to defy predictions and punch above his weight again when the circus arrives in Brazil for the penultimate race of the campaign.
Having qualified fourth in Yeongam County, Hamilton was the only driver who really wanted the grand prix to get going at all as the rain pounded down on the Korea International Circuit, repeatedly radioing to his team during the initial safety car phase that it was safe enough to go racing.
Despite subsequently struggling in the treacherous conditions – albeit nowhere near as obviously as McLaren-Mercedes team-mate Jenson Button – and noticeably grappling around for grip on increasingly worn tyres in the closing stages as the asphalt dried out, the British star took advantage of the retirements of both pace-setting Red Bulls of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber to take the chequered flag a very solid second, and with it keep his bid for the laurels just about still on-track.
“During the first start behind the safety car, it was pretty tricky,” Hamilton acknowledged in an interview with his official website, “mainly because visibility was so limited. There didn't seem to be too much rain, but there was a lot of water in the air, and that meant the spray was pretty intense. You couldn't see much in front of you, so it was a good move to red-flag the event.
“When we re-started again behind the safety car, though, I didn't think conditions were too bad. We've had some pretty full-on wet races over the last couple of years – Fuji 2007, Silverstone 2008 – and I think the conditions in Korea were definitely comparable to those. That's why I wanted to go racing.
“Actually, the strangest conditions were at the very end of the race, when it started to get darker, which was another challenge – and something that you're not used to as an F1 driver. I think the race organisers got it just right – yes, the light was fading towards the very end of the race, but I think it would have been a controversial decision to stop it before full-distance, as it could have potentially favoured one team or driver over another. As we saw, the light levels dropped really sharply once we'd got out of the cars, so I think we got it just right.”
The only slight regret that the 25-year-old admitted to afterwards was the moment when – having usurped second place from Ferrari rival Fernando Alonso following a delay for the Spaniard during his sole pit-stop on lap 32 – he then inadvertently surrendered it again by running wide at the final safety car re-start. Courtesy of Vettel's engine failure 13 laps later, that second place would subsequently become first – but Hamilton reckons even had he stayed ahead at that juncture, his former team-mate would have eventually got past him one way or another.
“I think it would have been extremely difficult,” he mused, when asked if he might have been able to stave Alonso off all the way to the end. “For the whole race, I was struggling with grip, and having trouble getting the car slowed down without locking the fronts. That's why I ran wide at the exit of Turn One – just because it was so difficult to get the car slowed for the corner. That's where Fernando passed me, but I really think it would only have been a matter of time before he'd have been able to get through anyway.
“We had pretty decent pace through sectors one and two, but the car wasn't fast enough through the final sector, where I was losing a couple of tenths, so I think I'd have been a sitting duck along the pit straight going into the first corner. Also, in the closing laps, my tyres started falling away really sharply and my lap times just plummeted. It was so hard to keep the car on the track, so I don't think it would have changed the overall result and I'm pleased with the 18 points for P2 – I could have done with seven more points for the win, but I'm happy with what I got.”