Lewis Hamilton insists that, despite claiming the first non-Red Bull pole position of the 2011 F1 season at the Korean Grand Prix, the hard work is still to come as he attempts to win for the third time in a troubled campaign.
The Briton has not featured on the podium since his last victory, in Germany in July, and has hit the headlines more for the wrong reasons than for his rare success, following much publicised, and repeated, clashes with the likes of Felipe Massa and Pastor Maldonado, and a series of ill-judged verbal outbursts that have raised questions over his mental state.
Out-performed by team-mate Jenson Button for much of the second half of 2011 - something the 2008 world champion openly admits too - Hamilton has also had to watch, powerless, as Sebastian Vettel claimed back-to-back world titles, the German stealing his rival's mantle as the sport's biggest young talent. Instead of allowing the season to slip quietly away, however, Hamilton made the most of an improved McLaren to claim his first pole position since the 2010 Canadian Grand Prix - even if his demeanour afterwards did not suggest that he was too excited by the prospect of starting at the front of the field on raceday.
"I'm very proud of what the team have been available to achieve over the course of the last few races, for Jenson to have won the last race and for us to be on the front two rows again and the only ones competing with Red Bull," he insisted, "But tomorrow is the day that really counts.
"I have had some difficult races in the past so, hopefully, I will try to redeem myself tomorrow. [Hopefully] we can get some really strong points for the team as they have put an incredible amount of effort into getting us to where we are today, so [we owe] a big thank-you to them and I hope that, tomorrow, me and Jenson can repay them."
The subdued demeanour with which he conducted the post-qualifying press conference raised a few eyebrows but, while Hamilton was at pains to insist that he was happy with what he had achieved, he saw no reason to celebrate just yet.
"It is very early days and it is not the most important day, but it is a great start," he acknowledged, "The team have worked incredibly hard all year to catch up the deficit that we had to the Red Bulls. Particularly [in] the last few races, at least the last five races, Jenson has been massively quick and we have been able to compete with them and constantly be on podium - but [we have] not really finished ahead of them on the podium too often. Fortunately, after the last race and here today, we are as competitive as them and hopefully, tomorrow, we can continue with that performance.
"I think we have had several Q1s and Q2s at the top of the leaderboard, but never really been able to pull through in Q3. Particularly [in] the last couple of races, I have not had my last run, so it was quite important that we got that today. It made a significant difference as I don't really know if Seb improved - I am sure he did, so it was important that we got that lap."
Despite concerns over tyre wear at the Korea International Circuit, Hamilton does not expect there to be any greater problems than the teams encountered in Japan last weekend.
"I think everyone anticipated the degradation of the tyres would be quite poor [but], looking at the Red Bull's long runs, it doesn't look so bad," he ventured, "The performance over one lap is longer than what the specialists anticipated so I think tomorrow is going to be very, very similar to what we had in last race.
"Through the last corner [in qualifying] was a little bit slippery, but I think it was the tyres really falling off. No, no. Generally, when you're driving these cars, particularly in qualifying, you do quite a slow enough lap that you don't take too much out of the tyres on the first lap and when you do your lap, naturally you've extracted everything. If you've extracted everything from the tyres, they should start going off in the last sector. That's natural, but once they cool down again, as they will be for tomorrow, the grip will be back to exactly where everyone else has it. We made a couple of changes as the track improved, but I think we have made a big change to the set-up compared to the last race and that made a big difference."