“PEOPLE CRITICISE me for my aggressive driving style, but I think today I was in a good space. There were some decisive moves that I pulled, and you had to drive with your head all the time. That was massively satisfying. I do it the way that I do it, and today I came through.”
If Lewis Hamilton had thereafter raised one or two digits to those who have been deriding him for pretty much everything in his life - his driving tactics, his aggressive forcefulness, his choice of management, even his facial hair - he could have been forgiven yesterday.
Twice he lost the lead of the German Grand Prix, having snatched it at the start. The first came when he got a very slow exit from the chicane on the 12th lap and saw pole-sitter Mark Webber edge ahead down the pit straight, the second when they made their first pit stops and Red Bull got their Australian driver ahead.
But each time Hamilton responded emphatically and cleanly. In a move reminiscent of his drive in Turkey last year when team-mate Jenson Button momentarily passed him on the pit straight, he immediately pulled alongside Webber and had grabbed the initiative back by the first corner. At the end of the second stint, he put in some great laps prior to his pit stop and was ahead of Webber by the time both had changed tyres.
“It was one of our best starts, a huge difference to what we had in Valencia,” Hamilton said, “and I had good temperature in my tyres and brakes. It felt fantastic to be pulling away from a Red Bull. It was really important to get into the lead at the beginning, to stop Mark pulling away.
“When he did get by me it was because there was a particular point on the track leading up to the chicane where each lap it was a little difficult for me; maybe it was just my car but I had some rear wheel locking, and I’d had a bit of a wide moment there. So I was being a bit cautious there and he got past me, but fortunately I was in a position to jet past him going into Turn One and we fought all through to Turn Three. Mark was very fair, and I love having that sort of racing.”
Webber seemed to have taken control when his pit stop moved him into the lead by the 18th lap, but the speed of the McLaren took everyone by surprise this weekend and Hamilton kept him honest as Fernando Alonso pushed along as hard as he could to make it a three-way battle for victory.
Then Webber’s race came undone after his second pit stop on lap 30. Hamilton stopped a lap later, Alonso a lap later still, and by lap 33 Hamilton was back in front and would stay there as the three went as far and as fast as they could on their third sets of soft-compound Pirelli tyres before making the mandatory switch to harder compound rubber in the closing stages. This time Hamilton stopped first, on lap 51, but such was his pace that it did not matter that Alonso went two laps longer and Webber another three. After 60 laps, he became F1’s fourth different winner in four races.
Behind him, Alonso headed Webber by 5.8 seconds, and then hitched a ride home on the Red Bull’s sidepod after his Ferrari ran out of fuel on the slowing-down lap. For the first time in ages, points leader Sebastian Vettel was not on the podium. Indeed, he was behind Felipe Massa’s Ferrari for most of a close duel, following a half-spin on the ninth lap, until both stopped for hard tyres on the penultimate lap. Then Ferrari’s crew fumbled the catch and handed their man’s hard-won place to the world champion.
“Every win is special but there is such big emotion and energy that the team have put into the car,” Hamilton said as his rivals floundered. “We just hit the sweet spot. It was just perfect, I couldn’t feel any better. I just didn’t expect to come here and to be so fast. I was expecting to be struggling again behind the Ferraris and the Red Bulls.”
For McLaren it was a superb recovery after the debacle of Silverstone a fortnight ago. “The guys did a fantastic job to push so hard for this, and it was one of the best races I think I’ve ever done,” Hamilton added. “It was a matter of knowing bit by bit how the car was behaving, and learning to look after the tyres a bit more. I was struggling in the middle sector so I improved my line in Turn Three in particular... This is a massive step forward and I really hope we as a team can use this and keep the momentum going.
“Unfortunately the rules have been a bit inconsistent in the last few races but we’re back in the fight and we’ll work very hard for the coming races. Days like this definitely pay off more than you imagine. I was able to have close races with Mark and Fernando, within a tenth of each other lap after lap after lap. It was all about really not making mistakes. It was awesome.”
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