Lewis Hamilton has admitted that a health-afflicted second place in the inaugural European Grand Prix around the harbour-side streets of Valencia this weekend was about the best that could have been hoped for - as he further extended his lead in the Formula 1 Drivers' World Championship.

The British star lined up second on the grid in qualifying around the all-new Juan Carlos I Marina circuit in the Spanish city, and had to rebuff an earnest attack from the BMW-Sauber of Robert Kubica off the start-line before settling down into a pursuit of Felipe Massa.

Though he was never able to challenge the Ferrari - ultimately coming home just under five seconds adrift - the 23-year-old nevertheless saw his advantage in the title chase climb from five points to six as the season prepares to enter its final stage.

"I can't complain with second place today," Hamilton confessed. "This was a strong weekend for us, despite my having a few problems health-wise, but we pulled through. The track was pretty difficult to overtake on, but I maintained the gap.

"Our lap times showed that our overall pace was good, which was encouraging. Heikki and I scored 13 points today, which is very positive for the team, so I'd describe it as a satisfactory weekend for us."

McLaren-Mercedes team-mate Heikki Kovalainen, by contrast, made an encouraging start to leap past countryman Kimi Raikkonen - prior to the race, Hamilton's closest championship challenger - and he would repel the Ferrari man's advances for the first two-thirds of the grand prix.

Though he struggled for pace early on, the Finn suddenly found his MP4-23 far more to his liking on his last set of rubber, allowing him to hunt down Kubica for the final podium position, taking more than a second a lap off the Pole before running out of time and having to settle for fourth place at the chequered flag, less than three seconds shy of his quarry.

"My start was good," the 26-year-old stated, "and I was consequently able to overtake Kimi before the first corner. However, I'm not really happy with how the race went for me after that, because I had grip problems with the prime tyres in the first and second stints, whereas with the option tyres in the last stint I had much better grip and traction.

"As a result I could close the gap to Robert Kubica a little. At least I scored five points, but a podium would have been much nicer. Having said that, it's good that the team scored a lot of points with Lewis' second place and my fourth."

Not only has that result vaulted Kovalainen past Nick Heidfeld into fifth spot in the drivers' standings, but it has also helped McLaren to close the gap separating them from Ferrari at the head of the constructors' chase to just eight points.

Whilst asserting that the outcome could have been better still, the Woking-based outfit's team principal Ron Dennis explained that - as soon as it became clear that Massa was not going to be defeated - the squad reverted to playing the percentage game.

"We saw another extremely solid McLaren-Mercedes team performance today," the 61-year-old underlined. "The result was a very useful clutch of championship points, but in truth we lost the chance of outright victory yesterday in qualifying.

"In my view it's pretty clear that if Lewis had qualified with the same level of fuel as Felipe, he'd probably have been able to control the race from the front, but the nature of the circuit dictated that it was always going to be difficult for him to overtake today. That being the case, we opted fairly early on to take the championship-strategic option of settling for second place.

"Following on from his victory in Hungary, Heikki also drove very strongly and helped bolster our points total in the constructors' championship. He responded well to the pressure applied by Kimi, and thoroughly deserved his fourth place."

"I am quite satisfied," agreed Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Vice-President Norbert Haug. "Lewis leads the drivers' world championship, six points ahead of Felipe and 13 ahead of Kimi. No other team scored more points than we did today; we reduced the gap in the constructors' and extended the lead in the drivers' rankings.

"The first grand prix here in Valencia was a great premi?re - thank you to the organisers and to Bernie; this grand prix most certainly set an example. The most positive element was that the boxes containing our spare parts were kept closed all weekend - we didn't need to fit a single replacement part throughout a race weekend that everybody thought might be full of crashes.

"We will now continue to work hard in order to be well-prepared for the final third of the season, which will begin with back-to-back races at Spa and Monza, two particularly challenging circuits that will put maximum stress on the engines."