Lewis Hamilton has revealed that a neck problem almost caused him to not take part in the inaugural European Grand Prix in Valencia at the weekend - a race in which he again extended his lead in the Formula 1 Drivers' World Championship.

The McLaren-Mercedes star admitted afterwards that in addition to a bout of the 'flu on arrival in Spain, on the Saturday morning ahead of qualifying he had also been woken up in distinctly unpleasant fashion - leading to doubts over his participation in the grand prix.

"I've had a pretty miserable weekend, really," he reflected, the end result notwithstanding. "I have had a few problems health-wise but still pulled through, and I had a great team behind me who helped me.

"I had the 'flu when I arrived, and I had pretty hard fevers pretty much every day and low energy. I also had quite a big problem with a spasm in my neck, which nearly did lead to me not racing this weekend. That was pretty tough.

"I only had it once. I just woke up very, very early [on Saturday], before 5am, and I had the spasm in my neck. Fortunately I've got a great doctor who was with me the whole way through it.

"It was so bad that I was struggling to basically stand up, and so I had to have injections in my neck and take plenty of painkillers. Fortunately, as I said, I have a great trainer who helped. Pedro [de la Rosa - McLaren test driver] was looking forward to racing!

"It won't be a problem again, I'm pretty sure, though it's still sore. It was probably something to do with my pillow, the way I was sleeping, because it was just when I woke up. I think I've done a pretty decent job, considering."

That much is an understatement, given that the 23-year-old both qualified and finished in as runner-up to Felipe Massa - notching up another eight points from a race in which his McLaren was, as in Hungary, patently not the quickest car on the track. Had he been able to begin from pole position, though, he contended, it may just have been a different ending.

"I cannot complain with second place," he affirmed. "We had quite a strong weekend. It is a nice new circuit and I've come here and got some good points and the team have got some good points, so overall it was a solid weekend for us.

"This track is not that physical; it was just that it was hot. You don't have enough water in the car, really. It has just been a very hot weekend, and as you can see we are in these big old suits - it is like driving in a sauna! It was quite a hectic one-and-a-half hour race, so I am pretty happy the way I got through.

"At the start I was on the dirty side, though I don't think it was too much of a disadvantage. For sure everyone on the right did seem to get a better start, and I noticed through the race I was actually driving on that side - the pole side of the grid the whole time - so it must have been the cleaner side. It sure looked that way at the start, because Felipe and Heikki [Kovalainen - McLaren team-mate] got better starts.

"I think I got a reasonably good start. I was nowhere near as quick as Felipe; I just had to try and hold my spot. Robert [Kubica] was pushing quite hard for the first couple of corners, but after that I was pretty relaxed. I was able to try and attack and keep up with Felipe.

"It was good to know that we were a couple of laps heavier, though. That shows we have got the pace. We assumed that he would either go in on the same lap as us or maybe longer, so that was a good indication that we had good pace all weekend, and really showed we were strong.

"He was in front and it is pretty difficult to overtake here, so I thought 'keep a certain gap and just try and maintain it', but throughout the race they seemed to show a little bit more pace on the longer stints. We stayed pretty close in the first stint, but towards the end I think he started to stretch it out a little bit.

"However, I was still really happy with the pace of my car, and the great thing is we came away with some strong points for myself and for the team. We are showing that we have great reliability, and that is due to all the team doing a fantastic job."

The Stevenage-born ace was also full of enthusiasm for the 'phenomenal atmosphere' surrounding the Valencia weekend and the equally 'fantastic job' all of the race officials had done to make the event such a resounding and well-enjoyed success, stating: "I think [the marshals] are probably the quickest I have ever seen in my whole racing career in clearing cars that have been off the track; I was very impressed with that."

Turning his attentions towards the final phase of the 2008 season, meanwhile, Hamilton suggested that Ferrari's persistent reliability niggles could just hand McLaren a crucial advantage - even if he acknowledged that the scarlet machines appear to have a slight edge in terms of race pace at the moment.

"I think it looks pretty well-balanced," the eight-time grand prix-winner asserted. "If you look at the whole field they all seem to be relatively close through qualifying, but I think then the better car really does tend to look after its tyres a little bit better and has better longer stints, so we're both pretty close there. Perhaps they're a little bit better during the race, but I think in qualifying we're quite close.

"Reliability is the key, and finishing and scoring points has got to be the goal for everyone. I'm not worried about the reliability of my car, as you can tell. The past year-and-a-half we've had phenomenal reliability, and that's obviously due to the whole package that the whole team has put together.

"The engine's great and the car is great. We've not really got any problems. We can focus on developing the car rather than worrying about reliability, which is a bonus for us."


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