Lewis Hamilton has stressed that, despite the win in Hungary on Sunday that gave him the lead in the Formula One world championship for the first time this season, he cannot afford to let up in the pressure he has exerted over his Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg.
However, both he and his team have made it clear they believe the title fight is far from over- – especially given that he will have to take grid penalties for an engine change later in the season, a scenario they are considering how best to manage.
Hamilton took his fifth win at the Hungaroring with a well-managed if rather pedestrian race, having beaten his team-mate into the first corner. The three-times world champion had experienced a difficult start to the season with two mechanical failures in qualifying, and after Rosberg won the first four races, was 43 points behind the German. Hamilton has won five of the last six grands prix, however, and now leads his rival by six points, with one race to go – this week in Hockenheim – before the summer break.
He said he had still yet to take in the impact of his remarkable fightback but that continuing with the momentum was paramount. “I’m still in the mentality of chasing,” he said.”It’s been great to be able to come back with fewer engines and the struggle that we had at the beginning of the year. I’m very proud of that but conscious there’s a long way to go. It’s important we try and go from strength to strength. I need to make sure I stay on it.”
Rosberg has scored only three podiums from the last six races, and was simply unable to match his team-mate both at Hungary and the previous round at Silverstone, but denied that the race had signified a significant swing in the championship battle. “I’ve always said I’m not counting points,” he said. “I fully expected him to come back and I didn’t expect to be 43 points in front all the time, it ebbs and flows and it’s always going to be a tough battle against him because he’s the world champion. I’m disappointed because I wanted to win Hungary, not because some points are this way or that way.”
Hamilton came back at Rosberg from behind three times in the 2014 season and concluded with a run of six wins from seven races to take the championship. The Mercedes executive director, Toto Wolff, believed Rosberg, who the team signed for a further two years last week, could still fight back against Hamilton, despite having been beaten to the title by the British driver for the past two seasons.
“At the beginning of the season he won so many points against Lewis so you can see it swings both directions,” said Wolff. “It’s important to finish, being solidly on the podium, avoiding mistakes, DNFs can cost you the championship. We’ll see that swing through the season and my feeling is that the championship will go to the end.”
The two drivers were still at odds after the race over the decision not to penalise Rosberg for posting his pole position lap while double-waved yellow flags were being shown. The German insisted he had obeyed the rules – and the stewards agreed – but Hamilton, who lost his quick lap under the flags, believed their interpretation had not been strict enough.
Wolff did not think it would impact on their fight for the title and that the advantage would still shift between them. “We’ve been with each other four years now and it’s important that each one of them concentrates on their strengths,” he said. “You will see a couple of races go towards one and then towards the other.”
Hamilton’s mechanical problems early in the season have cost him replacement power unit components and he has accepted that grid penalties will be incurred. He has used the maximum five turbochargers and MGU-H units (an energy recovery system that converts heat energy from exhaust gases into electrical energy) meaning a minimum 10-place grid penalty will be imposed but he is likely to take the fallback of the grid penalty to gain an entirely new power unit – of all components.
He has suggested taking two at the same race, to create a pool of parts. Hamilton has said he will choose the race, based on where he thinks he can gain the most places from the back of the grid and Wolff confirmed in Hungary that the team will consider the question after the German Grand Prix.
“We want to wait as long as possible to the moment we can judge with how many engine and engine components we can go to the end,” said Wolff. “Then chose a track where the penalty is not as harsh for him, that decision we haven’t made, we need to wait until after Hockenheim and then it’s going to be reassessed.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010