The drive itself was unmemorable, especially for a driver whose scrapbook is replete with wins, but its import may stick with him long after the memory of taking the flag has faded. For the same reasons his team-mate, Nico Rosberg, who finished second, found himself on the end of yet another race he would rather forget.
Hamilton had come to the Hungaroring trailing Rosberg by one point in the championship. He leaves six points ahead. It is the culmination of a run in which the British driver has gone from a 43-point deficit by the fourth round in Russia to the lead for the first time this season. The gap, fuelled by Rosberg’s four-win run from the opening races, was huge and in current terms, given the reliability of the Mercedes, was a daunting challenge.
The pair took one another out at round five in Spain and since then Hamilton has been the driving force. Since Barcelona he has won five of the six grands prix and Rosberg, who kept noting as the gap came down that his lead proved he had been the best driver so far this season, finally had to cede even that increasingly hollow claim to his rival after he could not match him in Hungary.
Hamilton was, as ever, playing down the momentum he has, his focus as with all modern professional sportsmen and women centred on nothing more than the next race, but it is undeniably there and it is not from just the winning, but rather the scale of the fightback.
“I think Spain was definitely a turning point,” he said. “It didn’t feel like it was but it was rock bottom basically. The only way was up. I just managed to get my head together and get my shit together and get on with it, even though I have less engines, my mechanics had been changed. All these different things which didn’t seem to be working. I just had to deal with it. Since then we’ve pulled together.”
There are shades here of 2014, when Rosberg drove into Hamilton at Spa. He was reprimanded and Hamilton, who at that point trailed his team-mate by 29 points was furious. Six of the next seven races were won by the British driver and, at the last in Abu Dhabi, his second title.
There is much further to go this season, with 10 races remaining, and Hamilton still faces at least one start at the back of the grid for an engine change, of which he is fully aware, so there is a considerable story yet to be written and it feels as if it will not be one of simply smooth sailing to the title. Tough challenges doubtless await but he also knows he has performances, such as the one displayed on Sunday, to call on that will be virtually faultless.
His fondness for the Hungaroring is well known, as is his prowess here. This fifth win, a record, takes him past Michael Schumacher’s number of victories at the track and it was largely sealed at the first turn.
Hamilton’s getaway could not have been better and reflected his recent success in putting his team-mate under pressure. Second on the grid to Rosberg’s pole, the British driver was away more quickly and took a tight line to take the lead through the first corner. He quickly pulled out a gap that put him beyond DRS range and then, it might be kindly described, managed his way to the win.
His car was superlative on the opening supersoft tyres but on the two sets of soft tyres he later took, concern over their wear made the pace grip-saving sedate rather than haring-into-the-distance breakneck. Indeed with overtaking tricky and Rosberg unable to get close, his only major concern came when the team warned him they might have to switch the drivers’ positions if his speed did not improve as Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull threatened from third. He was not told twice and the times duly came down. Theories that he was deliberately backing his rival into trouble were denied by both drivers and the team’s executive director, Toto Wolff. The central issue they claimed was taking care of the rubber.
This pattern repeated whenever he was delayed by traffic and, as Rosberg closed, there was always another six- or seven-tenths in the bag, enough to see him over the line and finally to take Mercedes’ first win here since the V6 turbo hybrid era began.
Rosberg admitted he had done all he could. “I was quite happy that the pace was slow because I was trying to put the pressure on and get some mistakes from him,” he said. “I did everything I could, got some mistakes but not enough to get by.”
Which begs the question he must now ask: what can he do? The German looks bludgeoned by Hamilton’s fightback and on recent form has no answer to him. It is such a gulf, in terms of a lead, that has been bridged before the halfway point of the season – which is the next round in Germany – that for all the one-race-at-a-time mantras it simply must be playing on his mind.
The mighty John Surtees pulled off the greatest comeback, in 1964, to overturn his 20-point (55 in modern terms) deficit to Jim Clark in five races.
In recent times Hamilton’s resurgence recalls Kimi Raikkonen’s triumph in 2007 from the equivalent of 45 points down and Sebastian Vettel’s title in 2012 from 44 points behind.
“I honestly feel we’re in the strongest position we’ve been in all year,” Hamilton said – a position which might well be remembered as defining the moment he was on his way to the title.
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