Lewis Hamilton insists that he is still in the thick of the F1 world championship battle despite having to fight just to finish on the podium at the Singapore Grand Prix.
While it may seem fatuous to suggest that the Briton, who appeared dominant prior to F1's summer break but has seen Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg sweep to three wins since, is anything other than a contender, he was never in the mix for victory in Singapore after losing vital track time in practice and qualifying only third after a scrappy Saturday session. Unable to overcome Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo off the start, he – like Rosberg – had to contend with constant brake temperature warning through the early part of the race, and backing off to preserve his retardation only dropped him into the hands of Kimi Raikkonen, enjoying a positive afternoon on a track always expected to move Ferrari closer to parity.
“I was struggling [early on] because the brakes were way overheating, so I had to slow down and watch the other guys pull away as I was looking at other ways of getting them under control,” Hamilton explained, “Only after my second stop were they were under control [although], of course, towards the end, I still got a bit of heat in them.”
Having homed in on Hamilton through the mid-part of the race, Raikkonen finally took the third podium position after the Mercedes driver made a mistake on the Marina Bay bumps - 'I just locked up and went straight on,' Hamilton confirmed – but proved unable to pull away and remained susceptible when the reigning world champion was able to up his pace at the end.
With the pressure on his brakes lessening, Hamilton made a third stop for supersoft Pirellis in the closing stages and his pace on the in- and out-lap was enough to undercut Raikkonen when Ferrari followed a similar tactic to try and keep Mercedes at bay. From then on, Hamilton's pace was much improved and he never looked like ceding the podium spot again, limiting his losses to Rosberg to just ten points and an eight-point swing in the championship lead.
“The team suggested [Ferrari] would do the same,” the Briton revealed when asked if he was surprised to see Raikkonen stop, “To be honest, I think we were both struggling, so I kinda knew [he would stop] and I was just pushing on the out-lap to see if I could [get back in front].
“Part of [the improved pace] was the fresh tyres but, mostly, because the car gets lighter, the brakes are easier to control,” he confirmed, “Once the overheating reduced, I was then able to pick up the pace. I was still getting warnings to the end but, the last ten laps, I just let them continue flashing as a warning and hoped for the best. Fortunately the pace was better...”
Having congratulated Rosberg on a near flawless weekend, Hamilton gently reminded his team-mate that there would be no let-up in their championship battle.
“Nico drove fantastic all weekend and fully deserved the win,” he noted, “It was a tough day today, but it always is in Singapore. This weekend has just been a tricky one for me, but I'm glad I could get back on the podium and get some [extra points]. The [championship situation] is a lot different to when I was here last year but, all in all, with everything that has gone on this year, I'm still in the fight and there's a long way to go.
“We've come from 43 points down [this season], so eight points isn't anything near as steep as that. Nico has done an amazing job [this weekend], and I expect him to continue like that, so I've just got to make sure that I do the same.”