Lewis Hamilton has attempted to play down talk that Ferrari had returned to the top of the Formula One pecking order at Magny-Cours, claiming that he had not been able to properly challenge for victory in the French Grand Prix.

The Briton, who arrived in France with a ten-point lead in the world championship and riding the back of two successive grand prix victories, qualified second to split the two Ferraris on the grid, but pitted before either Felipe Massa or Kimi Raikkonen and, having been jumped by the Finn at the start, never rose above third place all afternoon.

"I didn't get off to the best start - all I saw was Kimi come flying past," he reflected, "I just had to try and stay as close as possible. I think I had good pace at the beginning - I was slightly quicker than Kimi - and I thought I had to try my hardest to get past, but you get to a certain distance and you just lose downforce. I lost a lot of downforce behind Kimi through turn three, and lost a bit of pace to him, so I wasn't able to slipstream him down the straight [to Adelaide]. Unless you're much much quicker - seconds quicker - you won't get past."

Despite being stuck behind both Massa and Raikkonen - who reversed their positions at the final pit-stop after the Brazilian had been affected by traffic - and coming home more than 30 seconds behind the Finn, Hamilton insisted that the result did not do justice to what he believed was still a close battle between F1's two current superpowers.

"I don't think it is worrying - it shows they have made a good step forward and they obviously had a very good strategy which worked slightly better than ours today," he said, "At the end, when I came out of my third pit stop I knew that I was 20 seconds already behind so there was no point in wrenching the neck out of the engine. I just relaxed and kept that position.

"You can't win every race, and the most important thing is that you are consistent, which I think we are. I am not disappointed. I don't like being overtaken, but that's the same for everyone, and this is the first race that I've been overtaken. It was inevitable at some point, but the fact is that we have finished on the podium again and we are the most consistent team. I think we are doing a better job.

"Ferrari made a good improvement, a good step forward at Silverstone, but we made a step forward too. It's just that, this weekend, when you are behind people, it is a lot harder to show true pace. I don't think they were as quick as they looked today. Yes, there was a big gap, but traffic and strategy had a lot to do with that. I am sure we can bounce back at the next race.

"I still think that we will be extremely competitive at Silverstone. I know that the team is working very very hard back at the factory to keep on improving, and that, when we go to the next race, we will be even quicker. I'm feeling fairly confident. As long as we continue with the reliability that we have, the consistency, then I don't see why we won't be able to fight for the win."

Much has been made of Hamilton returning to Silverstone as championship leader and, with McLaren team-mate Fernando Alonso finishing only seventh, the gap between them has extended to 13 points as the British Grand Prix nears. Far from feeling the pressure of living up to expectation in front of his home crowd, however, the rookie is positively looking forward to the experience.

"I keep saying that I didn't even expect to finish on the podium in my first race, let alone eight races in the season, so I am very happy with the job that I have done and the job that the team have done," he concluded, "I think that going into my first Silverstone grand prix in the team that I have always wanted to drive for and leading the world championship is one of the greatest feelings that a driver can have."

 

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