McLaren sporting director Sam Michael has revealed that the entire team was relieved to see Lewis Hamilton cross the line ahead of Kimi Raikkonen at the Hungaroring after admitting that the Lotus team had been faster.
Despite dominating qualifying on Saturday afternoon, Hamilton had a fight on his hands throughout the Hungarian Grand Prix as, first, Romain Grosjean and, later, Raikkonen, exerted pressure on his advantage at the front of the field. Ironically, given their form at the start of the season - and maybe prompted by Michael's call for continued improvement ahead of the Hungarian race - Hamilton received two solid pit-stops, and only avoided a third when his lap times convinced the team that he could make his tyres last to the end.
"Lotus were definitely on us for the whole race," the technical director confirmed, after Raikkonen got to within a second of Lotus' first win of 2012, "I think they really have a good race car and we basically only beat them because of qualifying and the fact that we beat them in the pits. If they had qualified well - and in front of us - then, because it is difficult to overtake here, I think you would really struggle to beat them."
Raikkonen got the better of young team-mate Grosjean, who had qualified alongside Hamilton on the front row, by running longer on his second stint. Although he subsequently exited the pits neck-and-neck with the Frenchman [see story here
], after mistakenly leaving his speed limiter engaged too long, robust defence of second place at turn one ensured his third runners-up spot of the season.
"We felt they would always go long because that is where their advantage is," Michael continued, "They probably knew that we could beat them in the pits, so it worked well. But, definitely, we thought they would be pretty hard work in the last stint, and Lewis drove very well to keep Kimi off him."
Speaking separately to ESPN
in the wake of Hamilton's second, and McLaren's third, victory of the season, Michael insisted that the team would continue to develop the MP4-27 in the hope that the Briton can close the 47-point championship deficit to Ferrari's Fernando Alonso.
"That's our target," he insisted, having seen the most recent upgrades produce Hamilton's victory a week after team-mate Jenson Button returned to form with second at Hockenheim, "Yes, we brought upgrades to every race - we took some big ones to Hockenheim and some small, but still important, ones here - and our target is to keep pushing for the rest of the season on this.
"I think we'll need it to be competitive in the championship. We are behind at the moment and our job is to get back in front - and we have a fast enough car to do that at the moment."