Lewis Hamilton and McLaren team boss Martin Whitmarsh both admit that it could be a case of chipping away steadily at Fernando Alonso's points advantage, but there are others who clearly believe that the Briton's Hungarian Grand Prix victory signals a return to title-chasing form.
Hamilton was in imperious form throughout the Budapest weekend, despite race day not being quite as easy as what preceded it, and the 25 points for victory helped reduce the deficit to Alonso to 47 points with nine rounds remaining once the action resumes after August's summer break. The Briton has already claimed that the title fight is still 'all to play for' [see story here
], despite others, including veteran team boss Giancarlo Minardi suggesting that the closeness of the contenders could play into Alonso's hands as they continue to take points from each other [see story here
Hamilton's view that he remains a contender, however, is shared by countryman and commentator Martin Brundle, who believes that the boost he gets from winning in Hungary can push the McLaren man back into the frame from fourth overall in the points.
"Lewis was the happiest and most open that I've seen him for ages," he wrote in his regular column for broadcaster Sky Sports
, "He's become a Twitterholic, he left the circuit embracing his dad, and he was much more approachable and not charging around the place head down, under a cap, and behind dark glasses. He answered media questions with polite charm and engagement. From Friday morning until the chequered flag on Sunday afternoon, he looked like the man most able and determined to win the race, in and out of the car. He's put himself back in the title hunt, and a happy Lewis in that upgraded McLaren can clearly be a major force every race now."
Unusually, Brundle did not see Alonso's fifth-place finish as significant for the championship, despite the Spaniard probably having salvaged more points than he could have entitled to. With both Mark Webber and Jenson Button finishing behind the Ferrari after failed switches to three-stop strategies, Alonso opened his championship lead to a not inconsiderable 40 points as he extended his perfect 2012 scoring streak.
"Alonso had a very lacklustre day to finish fifth and went home very happy having extended his championship lead," the former racer wrote, "Under the surface though he must be very concerned because Red Bull, McLaren and Lotus have very strong cars. Ferrari are now in fourth place in the constructors' title race and they will have to fight very hard to keep Alonso at the head of the drivers' championship too in the remaining nine races. They desperately need [Felipe] Massa to get into the action and take points off Alonso's rivals."
Lotus filled out the podium in the absence of a challenge from either Ferrari or Red Bull, and came in for particular praise from Brundle, even though he thought that neither of the Enstone team's drivers would have been particularly pleased with their outcome.
"In many ways, this is a reflection of the quality and depth of the 2012 competition, and the importance of getting every aspect of race preparation and delivery absolutely right," he noted, "Kimi Raikkonen is a case in point. He showed stunning pace at the end of his second stint and, in combination with his Lotus, was very much a potential race winner. It was his fifth podium in eleven races on his F1 return after a rallying sabbatical yet, on the podium and in the post-race interviews, he had a face like a wet Monday morning as he rued another race victory that had slipped away. It really impresses me that he takes that much pain on what by any standards is a very successful return.
"Standing alongside him on the podium was his equally disappointed team-mate Romain Grosjean. Here's a man who, two seasons ago, was in a mildly-competitive GT car as he tried keep his career alive, [and] Grosjean looked the man most likely to beat Hamilton to the chequered flag until held up by Michael Schumacher when lapping him, and a slightly scruffy pit-stop.
"Being nerfed off the road by Raikkonen as he exited the pits as they apexed turn one side-by-side probably didn't help his demeanour, and third place didn't represent his ultimate potential and he knew it. The good news for Grosjean is that his close combat racecraft looked great and underlines that his first lap incidents this season have been unlucky rather than indicative of bad judgement."
According to Brundle, the E20 could be the car to beat when the season resumes in Belgium, confirming just how competitive the end of the year has become.
"Lotus has a very interesting rear wing device using a fluid switch which could see them mighty fast in Spa," he concluded.