Lewis Hamilton maintains that he was confident of being able to attack Felipe Massa before the end of the Hungarian Grand Prix today had it not been for his mid-race puncture – despite the fact that the Brazilian displayed superior pace throughout.
After taking pole position for the race around the tight and twisty Hungaroring for the second year in succession, the Formula 1 World Championship leader had high hopes of a second consecutive victory to boot, but being passed around the outside of turn one by Massa's fast-starting Ferrari on the opening lap was certainly not in his game plan.
Though many predicted the McLaren-Mercedes star would simply keep a watching brief until the opening round of pit-stops before running longer and leapfrogging the scarlet machine, such a scenario never materialised – indeed quite the opposite, as Massa inched steadily away and always seemed to have an answer to everything the pursuing Hamilton had to throw at him, before the puncture with 30 laps left to run ultimately extinguished any hopes the Stevenage-born ace may have had of staging a triumphant fight back.
“The race could have been better for me,” the 23-year-old reflected afterwards. “My start was okay, but Felipe's was better and he managed to overtake me.
“I managed to maintain the gap during the first stint, and felt comfortable in the second stint because I was matching his times but was going to be running longer to the final stops. I feel I could have had a go at passing him, but the damaged tyre halted my progress.
“I don't yet know what happened, but at least I scored four points and maintained my lead in the championship, so this result is not too bad for me. Congratulations to Heikki [Kovalainen – team-mate] for his first and very well-deserved grand prix win.”
Allied to Massa's late-race heartbreak when his Ferrari's engine blew, the fact that Hamilton managed to take the chequered flag in fifth position – just 1.4 seconds adrift of former team-mate Fernando Alonso, having fallen back as far as tenth spot at one point – actually saw him extend his advantage in the drivers' title chase, to five points over new second-placed man Kimi Raikkonen.
The four valuable points salvaged also enabled McLaren to close the gap on the Scuderia
in the constructors' standings to just eleven markers with seven races remaining – a fact not lost on either the Woking-based concern's team principal Ron Dennis or Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Vice-President Norbert Haug.
“Lewis' race was compromised by his losing the lead at the start,” Dennis admitted, “but we fuelled him long for the second stint and therefore believed he was well-placed to leapfrog Felipe in his final pit-stop.